WASHINGTON, DC - Retail sales fell sharply last month, retarded by weaker auto sales and lower receipts at gas stations. However, economists opine that underlying sales remain relatively strong, and they don't believe consumer spending is slowing.
    The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that February retail sales declined by a seasonally adjusted 1.3% from January to $362.3 billion (€301.29bn; £207.28bn). That followed an upwardly revised gain of 2.9% in January, the biggest jump since October 2001.
    But some economists believe the abrupt reversal isn't a harbinger of bad news, rather a reflection of the unusual weather patterns in the past few months.
    These, they argue, have distorted the trends and triggered the month-to-month volatility in auto sales and gasoline prices. Excluding sales of the latter items, February retail sales slipped by just 0.3%.