The US consumer mighthavegone AWOL in March.

Bank of America Corp.s proprietary aggregated credit and debit card datasuggests that retail sales excluding cars flatlinedlast month.

Given difficult annual comparisons, this leaves sales down 0.1 percent year-over-year, writes Deputy Head of US Economics Michelle Meyer.

The UK economy may have grown at the slowest pace in more than three years in the first quarter, according to new estimates that could put a further cloud over the outlook.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimated on Friday that gross domestic product rose 0.3 percent, half the pace recorded in the last three months of 2015. That would be the worst performance since the fourth quarter of 2012, which was the last time the economy shrank.

The institute published the estimate after data showed the trade gap widened to the most in eight years and there was an unexpected decline in industrial production. With question marks over the pace of global growth and domestic confidence taking a hit in the buildup to Britain's European Union membership vote in June, the economy may be losing momentum.

The researchers model the economy on a Pareto curve where most wealth is held at the top end, and they assume people will trade randomly with each other when their budget allows. As wealth concentrates, the model shows a reduction in liquidity because a few rich people canapos;t compensate for the transaction volume of many people.

As inequality in the wealth distribution increases, cash concentrates more and more on the wealthiest agents, thereby suppressing the probability of successful exchanges, the paper says. Therefore, the economy freezes because financial resources (ie cash) concentrates in the hands of few agents.

The paper offers more proof of what many economists have been saying for years: People on middle and lower incomes are vital for economic growth. It also adds to the case for so-called helicopter money, where instead of stimulating the economy through low interest rates and quantitative easing, central banks give money direct to consumers. Quantitative easing#x2014;the usual sort of policy to boost growth, which involves creating money to buy financial assets#x2014;has been great for the stock markets, some commentators argue. But it hasnapos;t revitalized the main economy as much as everyday consumers could.

Some economists now see first-quarter growth as negligible, and it could easily turn out to be negative.

Economists shaved already weak growth forecasts by a few more tenths Friday, after wholesale inventories fell 0.5 percent month over month in February, much more than the anticipated 0.1 percent decline. January was also revised down by 0.4 percent.

The closely watched Atlanta Fed GDPNow model now shows first-quarter growth tracking at 0.1 percent, compared to a 0.4 percent estimate earlier in the week. JPMorgan economists now forecast the economy only expanded by 0.2 percent in the first quarter, from 0.7 percent.