Retail sales rose a sluggish 0.2 percent in October, matching economists' expectations, as a housing downturn and steep oil prices constrained consumer spending, Commerce Department data on Wednesday showed.

Last month's increase was down sharply from September, when sales rose an upwardly revised 0.7 percent.

Home furnishing stores saw a 0.9 percent sales decline in the latest month as the housing slump took its toll, while gasoline stations posted a 0.8 percent increase.

Excluding autos, October sales rose 0.2 percent, a shade below economists' forecast for an increase of 0.3 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had widely expected sales growth to slow from September's pace as consumer confidence sank under the weight of the housing slide, rising oil prices and tightening credit terms.

Investors are watching retail sales data particularly closely for signs that consumers are caving, which would deal a severe blow to the already shaky U.S. economy. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Last week, major retailers posted disappointing October sales, which they blamed on the economic woes plus unseasonably warm weather that hurt demand for fall clothing.

The Commerce report showed a similar trend, with department store sales down 0.5 percent and clothing and accessory stores up a modest 0.1 percent.