In this Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, photograph, sun glints off the headlight housing of an unsold 2018 Maserati Levante in a long line of the high-end sports utility vehicles sitting on a dealer’s lot in Highlands Ranch, Colo. On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for February. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumers spent less at auto dealers, gas stations and department stores in February, causing overall retail sales to slip 0.1 percent.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales have declined for the past three months, but they’re still 4 percent higher from a year ago. Shoppers have opened 2018 with a cold spell after robust spending gains in the months leading up to the holidays.

Auto sales fell 0.9 percent last month, while purchases at gas stations tumbled 1.2 percent. Sales at department stores declined 0.9 percent.

But spending at online and catalog retailers climbed, as did spending at building materials stores, restaurants and clothiers to offset much of the decline elsewhere.

The report seems to contradict some of the optimism among retailers, which added 50,300 jobs in February.

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