WASHINGTON (AP) -- Government data show retail sales fell off a cliff in September, plunging by the largest amount in three years.
Worried consumers shunned the malls and auto showrooms in the midst of the country's financial meltdown.
The Commerce Department reported retail sales decreased 1.2 percent last month, nearly double the 0.7 percent drop that had been expected.
The surprise showing significantly increased the risks of a recession.
Consumer spending is two-thirds of total economic activity.
The weakness was led by a 3.8 percent drop in auto sales.
Sales dropped below 1 million units as consumers struggled to find financing.