WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales rose in March for the first time since late last year as consumers bought automobiles and other goods, bolstering views that a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter was temporary.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales increased 0.9 percent. That was the largest gain since March last year and snapped three straight months of declines that had been blamed on harsh winter weather.
Sales in February were revised to show a 0.5 percent drop instead of the previously reported 0.6 percent decline.
The sturdy report could keep the Federal Reserve on track to start raising interest rates later this year.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales rebounding 1 percent last month.
Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services rose 0.3 percent after a revised 0.2 percent decline in February.
The so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were previously reported to have been flat in February.
Economists had expected core retail sales would rise 0.5 percent in March.
Last month's jump in overall retail sales should ease fears of sustained weakness in the economy after an unusually snowy winter undercut activity early in the year. Labor disruptions at normally busy West Coast ports, a stronger dollar and softer global demand also have constrained growth.
Data on trade, consumer spending, manufacturing and home building have suggested the economy grew at a sub-1.5 percent annual rate in the first quarter.
Last month, automobile sales surged 2.7 percent, the biggest rise since March 2014. Sales at clothing stores increased 1.2 percent. Receipts at building material and garden equipment stores advanced 2.1 percent, the largest rise since July 2013.
Sales at restaurants and bars gained 0.7 percent.
There were also increases in sales at furniture stores and sporting goods and hobby shops. However, sales at electronic and appliance stores slipped as did receipts at online stores.
Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao