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US retail sales break slump with 1.6% jump in March

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales surged in March at the fastest pace since late 2017, as spending on autos, gasoline, furniture and clothing jumped.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that sales increased a seasonally adjusted 1.6% from February, the strongest increase since September 2017.

The gains mark a sharp rebound from a lackluster period of sales dating back to December. It’s a sign that the healthy job market has likely made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.

Sales at gas stations climbed 3.5% in March, while spending at auto dealers jumped 3.1%. Clothiers reported a 2% gain and furniture stores enjoyed a 1.7% bump.

Out of 13 retail categories, only one — sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores — reported a sales decline.

Spending at department stores was unchanged in March. Purchases in the sector that includes online businesses enjoyed a 1.2% increase. Restaurants saw their sales improve 0.8%.

Excluding autos and gas, retail sales increased by a still solid 0.9%. The ramp up suggests that consumers feel confident enough about their finances to maintain their spending, overcoming fears after retail sales in December plunged 1.6%, partially recovered in January and declined again in February.

During the past year, retail spending has grown 3.6%.

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