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Fuel pump at an Esso gas station in Toronto.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian retail sales unexpectedly fell in August, declining for a second month as gasoline prices dropped.

Sales decreased 0.3 per cent to $42.4-billion, the largest drop this year, Statistics Canada said today from Ottawa. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had forecast no change, the median of 20 responses.

The August reading follows a 0.1 per cent decline in July, marking the first back-to-back losses in retail sales since 2012. Receipts fell in seven of 11 categories in August, accounting for 76 per cent of total sales.

Gasoline stations led declines, with sales down 2.1 per cent in August to $5.38-billion. Among the three provinces with the highest total sales, Ontario and Alberta posted drops of 0.5 per cent and Quebec retailers saw a decrease of 0.1 per cent.

Sales by car and auto parts dealers fell 0.4 per cent to $10.1-billion, while purchases excluding motor vehicle and parts fell 0.3 per cent to $32.3-billion, the statistics agency said. Economists forecast they would gain 0.2 per cent.

The volume of sales was down 0.1 per cent, Statistics Canada said. That measure excludes the effects of price changes and more closely reflects the industry's contribution to economic growth.

Sales were 4.4 per cent higher in August than a year earlier, Statistics Canada said.