Retail sales up slightly as consumers take advantage of spring deals

WASHINGTON – Retail sales increased 0.4% last month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, buoyed by rising gasoline revenue. The gain in March, the ninth consecutive monthly increase, was the smallest since the string began last summer.

The increase shrank to a 0.1% when sales at gasoline stations were excluded. However, the biggest decline in auto sales in more than a year also pulled down overall sales. When taking out sales at gas station and of autos, retail sales rose 0.6%.

Many analysts considered that a solid gain, given the jump in gas prices and the fact that Easter is late. They also noted that sales in the previous two months were revised up to show slightly better gains.(On Wednesday, the government revised February’s sales growth to 1.1%, up from the 1.0% increase it originally reported.)

For March, sales of autos dropped a sharp 1.7%, the biggest decline since February 2010, with some of the weakness attributed to General Motors’ scaling back incentive offers.

Among the strongest performing retail sectors was home furnishings stores, where sales rose 3.6%. Sales were also rose at appliance stores and specialty clothing stores. Sales at general merchandise and discount stores increased 0.4%.

However, sales at just department stores dropped 0.2% in March.

“Shoppers last month were eager to take advantage of retailers’ spring promotions on everything from apparel to outdoor furniture,” said National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay. “While current indicators point to a more confident consumer, increasing gas prices and a cramped job market could hamper consumer spending during the upcoming summer months, a key time of year for retailers.”

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