- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Retail sales fell 1.1 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, lowering optimism that the U.S. economy has recovered from the depths of the recession.

The agency reported $344.4 billion in sales last month, which is 9.4 percent less than in March 2008.

Sales from January through March 2009 were down 8.8 percent, compared to the similar period a year ago, according to the report.

Among the biggest sale drops in March 2009, compared to March 2008, were at U.S. gasoline stations, where sales were down 34 percent. Auto and parts dealers reported a 23.5 percent drop in sales.

The report was issued Tuesday morning, about an hour before the U.S. markets opened and at roughly the same time the Labor Department reported that wholesale prices dropped 1.2 percent in March — as the cost of gasoline and other energy products decreased.

The agency’s Producer Price Index showed gas prices dropped 13.1 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stocks Index and the NASDAQ all were down in early trading, following the reports and a better-than-anticipated earnings report from Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Tuesday the economy is showing “tentative signs” of recovering from the recession, but he and other members of President Obama’s economic team still must stabilize financial markets to get credit flowing more freely.

“Recently we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing,” Mr. Bernake said, according to published reports of his prepared speech for later Tuesday at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “A leveling out of economic activity is the first step toward recovery. To be sure, we will not have a sustainable recovery without a stabilization of our financial system and credit markets.”

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