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U.S. Retail Sales Climb 0.5% Amid Spike In Gas Station Sales

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Reflecting a spike in sales by gas stations, the Commerce Department released a report on Thursday showing an increase in U.S. retail sales in the month of March.

The report showed retail sales rose by 0.5 percent in March after climbing by an upwardly revised 0.8 percent in February.

Economists had expected retail sales to increase by 0.6 percent compared to the 0.3 percent uptick originally reported for the previous month.

The retail sales growth came as sales by gas stations skyrocketed by 8.9 percent amid the recent surge in gasoline prices. Excluding the spike in gas station sales, retail sales dipped by 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the report showed sales by motor vehicle and parts dealers slumped by 1.9 percent in March after jumping by 1.5 percent in February.

Excluding the pullback in auto sales, retail sales jumped by 1.1 percent in March after rising by 0.6 percent in February. Ex-auto sales were expected to increase by 1.0 percent.

Along with the spike in sales by gas stations, the ex-auto sales growth reflected notably higher sales by general merchandise stores, sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores, electronics and appliance stores and clothing and accessories stores.

On the other hand, the report showed sales by non-store retailers plunged by 6.4 percent in March after tumbling by 3.5 percent in February.

Closely watched core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, edged down by 0.1 percent in March after falling by 0.9 percent in February.

“The surge in consumer prices means that consumption fell again last month in real terms, by 0.2% or so,” said Andrew Hunter, Senior U.S. Economist at Capital Economics. “While that would still leave growth over the first-quarter as a whole at close to 3.5% annualized, it provides a weak starting point for the second quarter.”

He added, “More generally, although the energy price-related hit to real incomes may unwind over the coming months, we expect slowing employment growth to keep consumption growth relatively subdued.”

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