Retail and food services sales jumped a seasonally adjusted 1.1%, to $434 billion for March, according to a Commerce Department report (link opens as PDF) released today. That's the largest increase in 18 months. 

This latest report also included a sharp upward revision to February's retail sales -- up 0.7% instead of the originally estimated 0.3%. Analysts had expected a rebound for March, and their 1% estimate proved just shy of actual growth. 

Top-line numbers look slightly smaller when accounting for more volatile automobile and gasoline sales. Auto sales increased 3.1% for March, putting retail sales less motor vehicles at 0.7% compared to analysts' 0.5% expectations. When excluding gasoline's 1.3% month-over-month slump, however, retail sales edged back up to a 1% gain for March.



Outside of these two sectors, general merchandise stores -- a category that covers retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target -- led sales percentage growth with a 1.9% increase, while electronics and appliance stores lagged with a 1.6% drop.

Compared to March of last year, retail sales are up 3.8%. Similar to March's report, motor vehicle sales have provided the largest percentage growth over the past year at 9.1%. Gasoline station sales are down 3.3% year over year, while department-stores sales have dropped 3.4%. Nonstore retailers clocked a 7.8% year-over-year gain in March. 

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. link

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