U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in December, posting the worst drop in nine years in a sign of slower economic momentum at year-end amid financial market turmoil and the government shutdown.

The value of overall sales fell 1.2 per cent from the prior month after a downwardly revised 0.1 per cent increase in November, according to Commerce Department figures released Thursday after a four-week delay due to the shutdown. That missed all economist estimates in a Bloomberg survey that had called for a 0.1 per cent gain.

The broad weakness across most sectors adds to signs that U.S. economic growth is cooling from prior quarters -- potentially by more than projected -- as consumption makes up about 70 per cent of the economy. It may reinforce investor expectations that the Federal Reserve will hold off on raising interest rates this year amid concern about trade and global growth.

Excluding automobiles and gasoline, retail sales slumped 1.4 per cent, the biggest drop since March 2009, after a 0.5 per cent advance the previous month.

Sales in the “control group” subset, which some analysts use to gauge underlying consumer demand, also missed estimates with a 1.7 per cent decline that followed a 1 per cent advance the prior month. The measure excludes food services, car dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations.

Shutdown's End

While the steep drop follows other data pointing to slower growth, it's at odds with figures showing a healthy job market and steady wage gains. The slump also may prove temporary as stocks have regained ground following December's plunge, and the government shutdown ended in late January.

All but two of 13 major retail categories showed a decline, with non-store retailers -- which includes online stores -- falling 3.9 per cent, the most since November 2008. The broad-based weakening reflected lower sales from clothing stores to and gasoline stations. Auto dealers and building materials stores were the only sectors to record increases.

December's drop is likely to hit estimates of consumer spending following the best back-to-back quarters of economic growth since 2014 and of consumer spending since 2015. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg before Thursday's data had forecast consumption to grow at a 3.4 per cent annualized rate in the fourth quarter and 2.4 per cent in the first three months of this year.

Filling-station receipts slumped 5.1 per cent, the report showed. The Commerce Department figures aren't adjusted for price changes, so the readings can reflect both fluctuating gasoline costs and sales.

Sales at automobile dealers rose 1 per cent in December after increasing 0.7 per cent in the previous month. Industry reports previously showed unit sales rose 0.6 per cent in December and fell 5.1 per cent in January.

A separate report Thursday from the Labor Department showed filings for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, a sign of potential residual effects of the shutdown. In addition, producer price inflation cooled in January, according to a Labor Department report.

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- Estimates in the Bloomberg survey for retail sales ranged from a 0.2 per cent drop to a 1.2 per cent gain.
- Receipts at health and personal care stores fell 2 per cent, the most since October 2016. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores tumbled 4.9 per cent, the biggest drop since September 2008.
- The release of January retail-sales figures -- originally scheduled for Friday -- has been postponed by the shutdown and is yet to be rescheduled. Despite the closure, processing and data quality were monitored during the closure and response rates for the December survey were at or above normal, the Commerce Department said.
- The retail-sales data capture just under half of all household purchases and can be volatile on a monthly basis.