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Washington (AFP) – U.S. retail sales leaped higher in March, giving further evidence of stronger economic activity after a particularly brutal winter, government data showed Monday.

Retail and food services sales surged 1.1 percent from February to $433.9 billion, slightly above the average analyst estimate, according to the Commerce Department.

The February gain was revised upward to 0.7 percent from the prior estimate of 0.3 percent, another sign that consumer spending held up despite bad weather that gripped much of the country.

Robust auto sales contributed largely to the upbeat March report, a key indicator of consumer spending that accounts for most U.S. economic activity.

Auto sales were the best gainer, jumping 3.1 percent, according to the data, which is not adjusted for price changes.

Retail sales excluding motor vehicles and parts rose 0.7 percent, topping the 0.5 percent rise expected.

Spending fell at electronics and appliance stores, miscellaneous stores and at gasoline stations.

But restaurants saw sales rise 1.1 percent, and building material and garden supplies sales increased 1.8 percent.

Nonstore retailers, largely online businesses, showed a gain of 1.7 percent from February.

Year-over-year, March sales were up 3.8 percent. Retail sales for the first quarter of the year were up a solid 2.5 percent from the same period a year ago.

Though the March report was a bit better than expected, with the monthly increase the largest since September 2012, “there was no release of pent-up demand as a result of winter-delayed purchases,” Briefing.com said.

AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown

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