Bullish U.S. retail sales brighten growth outlook

Mon Apr 14, 2014 1:57pm EDT
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales recorded their largest gain in 1-1/2 years in March in a decisive sign the economy is bouncing back from its weather-induced slumber.

Monday's upbeat report was the latest to indicate growth was set to accelerate in the second quarter after an unusually cold and snowy winter hobbled activity early in the year.

"It shows there is an underlying current of strength in the economy despite the drag from the severe winter weather," said Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica in Dallas.

The Commerce Department said retail sales increased 1.1 percent last month, the biggest gain since September 2012, with receipts rising in nearly all categories.

February's increase was raised to 0.7 percent from a previously reported 0.3 percent. Economists had expected retail sales, which account for a third of consumer spending, to advance only 0.8 percent last month.

The data combined with an improvement in quarterly profits from Citigroup to lift stocks on Wall Street after a sharp selloff in recent sessions. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell.

The sales figures added to recent employment data in suggesting the economy found momentum at the end of the first quarter. Job growth averaged 195,000 per month in February and March, an improvement over the prior two months, and first-time applications for unemployment benefits in early April fell back to their pre-recession level.

These bullish signals have bolstered hopes that growth this year will be the fastest since the 2007-09 recession ended.   Continued...

A shopper walks down an aisle in a newly opened Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chicago in this September 21, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files