UPDATE 3-U.S. housing recovery boosts pickup, SUV sales in March

Tue Apr 2, 2013 4:35pm EDT
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* Strong housing market boosts GM's small business sales

* Rising home prices help consumers feel more confident

* March auto sales up 3.4 pct, annual sales pace 15.27 mln

By Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT, April 2 (Reuters) - U.S. sales of sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks jumped in March, spurred by rising home prices and an increase in housing construction, major automakers said on Tuesday.

In March, new light-vehicle sales rose 3.4 percent and the annual sales pace reached 15.27 million, in line with analyst expectations. This marked the fifth straight month the industry sales rate topped 15 million.

General Motors Co said the stronger housing market helped its sales to small businesses rise nearly a third. Ford Motor Co, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, posted a 16.3 percent rise in sales of its F-Series pickup trucks.

"The housing sector recovery is in full swing," Ford senior U.S. economist Jenny Lin told reporters and analysts.

The U.S. housing sector is starting to contribute to growth after years of dragging down the broader economy. Rising home values are helping U.S. consumers feel more confident about buying a new vehicle, GM and Ford executives said.   Continued...