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Soft Sales, Price Data Spur U.S. Economy Worry
May 15, 2003
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U.S. consumers turned cautious in April, cutting spending on clothing, furniture and dining out, while import prices plunged at their sharpest rate ever, the U.S. government said. The data fueled concerns that the economy may remain sluggish despite an easing of consumer anxieties after the war in Iraq. Bond prices surged, with yields falling to their lowest level in four decades. Stock prices eased, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 31 points to 8,648. The Commerce Department said retail sales slid 0.1 percent in April, in contrast to economists' expectations for a gain of 0.4 percent. Excluding automobiles, sales slumped 0.9 percent, the biggest monthly drop since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The consumer is starting out the second quarter on a very weak note," said economist Chris Rupkey at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd in New York. "The Federal Reserve is inching closer toward taking action." Also worrying to economists was a 2.7-percent drop in import prices in April reported by the Labor Department

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