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Customers at the entrance of the Target store in East York on Aug. 5, 2014.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian retail sales unexpectedly fell in July, dropping for the first time in seven months on lower receipts at general merchandise stores.

Sales decreased 0.1 per cent to $42.5-billion, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

"Though auto-related spending continued its momentum, Canadians aren't using their new cars to drive to the shopping mall," Nick Exarhos, an economist at CIBC World Markets, wrote in a note to clients .

"We've noted how a tapped out consumer would run out of gas after having dropped savings dramatically over the past several quarters, and July's retail data may be a first signal of that."

Receipts at general merchandise stores declined 2.7 per cent to $5.3-billion, while receipts at clothing and clothing accessories stores dropped 2.3 per cent to $2.3-billion.

Motor vehicle and parts sales rose 1.6 per cent to $10.2-billion. Purchases excluding the motor vehicle and parts category fell 0.6 per cent. Economists had forecast they would be little changed.

Bank of Canada senior deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins reiterated Monday in a speech in Toronto that high household debt in Canada remains at the top of the list of risks to the nation's financial stability.