Retail sales in Australia were down a seasonally adjusted 2.0 percent in February compared to the previous month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday, representing the largest monthly decline since July 2000.

Sales came in at A$18.87 billion, down from A$19.26 in January but up from A$18.12 billion a year earlier. Analysts had expected a decline of 0.3 percent on month following the revised 0.5 percent increase in January and the 3.8 percent gain in December.

In original terms, Australian turnover decreased by 12.9 percent in February compared with January. Chains and other large retailers were down 16.3 percent, while the estimate for smaller retailers shed 6.6 percent. Australian turnover increased by an annual 0.5 percent in February. Chains and other large retailers increased by 3.2 percent, while the estimate for smaller retailers decreased by 3.5 percent.

In seasonally adjusted terms, all industries were down in February, including food retailing (-0.4 percent), department stores (-9.8 percent), clothing and soft good retailing (-2.7 percent), household good retailing (-3.8 percent), other retailing (-0.3 percent) and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (-1.3 percent).

In seasonally adjusted terms, all states other than Tasmania (+1.3 percent) had a decrease in February, including New South Wales (-2.4 percent), Victoria (-1.3 percent), Queensland (-2.2 percent), South Australia (-2.4 percent), Western Australia (-2.7 percent), Northern Territory (-0.1 percent) and the Australian Capital Territory (-0.5 percent).

Also on Wednesday, residential housing approvals were up 7.8 percent on month in February but down 25.5 percent on year, the ABS said - standing at 10,050. Approvals were down 3.7 percent on month in January and 33.5 percent on year.

Skilled job vacancies in Australia were down 10.8 percent in March compared to the previous month, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said, posting an index score of 40.7.

The February figure was downwardly revised to -11.7 percent, the data showed, from the -11.0 percent originally reported. On an annual basis, vacancies were down 57.9 percent.

Among the individual categories, metal trades were off 25.2 percent, while wood trades lost 19.6 percent and science technicians were down 19.4 percent.

Finally, the AIG Performance of Manufacturing Index came in at 33.4 in March, up from 31.7 in February.

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