Retail sales rose by 1.1 percent, higher than the 0.9 percent increase estimated by 78 economists polled by Bloomberg. The Commerce department said that the reading -- a seasonally-adjusted $433.9 billion -- was the best seen since September 2012 and higher than November's figure, after which harsh winter weather affected the shopping season and consumer spending.
February's retail sales were also revised to a 0.7 gain over January, up from 0.3 percent initially reported.
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S economy's output, and as such, strong economic growth is heavily dependent on consumer spending. Sales were weak in December and January on account of harsh winter weather, but March's retail spending was up 3.8 percent from thew same period last year.
10 of the 13 major retail segments showed healthy growth last month, with auto sales leading the way. Motor vehicle purchase gains were higher than September 2012 levels, and sales at department and general merchandise stores jumped the most since before the financial crisis.
“The biggest driver here is the jump in auto sales, but beyond that we are seeing some more widespread improvement in consumer activity,” said Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit.
Sales at automobile dealers climbed 3.1 percent after rising 2.5 percent in February. Apart from department store purchases, Americans spent more at furniture, building-supply and sporting-goods outlets. Internet sales were up and Americans dined out a lot more.
[Wall Street Journal]