March US sales boost signals more optimism

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Retail sales-a measure of outlays at stores, restaurants and websites-increased a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in March from the prior month, the Commerce Department said Monday. February's number was upwardly revised to reflect a 0.1% decrease. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.3 per cent.

The modest increase in ex-auto sales partly reflected a 1.4 percent spike in sales by health and personal care stores.

US retail sales rose by more than expected in March in the first gain in four months, suggesting consumer demand regained steam on the back of tax cuts and refunds.

The increase followed a 0.1 percent drop in February, which was the third of three consecutive months of decline. Nonstore retailer sales are up 9.7% year-over-year as online retailers continue to grow their market share. Auto sales rose 2 percent, the most since September; a report last week showed purchases of cars and light trucks rose to a 17.4 million annualized rate in March, the fastest this year.

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Even with the bounceback, consumer spending probably expanded at a slower pace in the first quarter.

Consumers shook off stormy weather last month to deliver retail sales growth. Compared with March 2017, the total is 4.7 percent higher. Some also argue that income tax cuts, which came into effect in January, only reflected on most workers' paychecks in late February.

Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 6.1 percent year-over-year but down 0.8 percent from February seasonally adjusted.

Grocery and beverage stores were up 5.9% year-over-year and up 0.2% from February. Sales at restaurants and bars gained 0.4 percent.

In a separate report on Monday, the New York Federal Reserve said its Empire State index tumbled seven points to a reading of 15.8 in April.

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