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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian retail sales rose for a third straight month in March, climbing 0.3 percent on strength in new motor vehicle sales, Statistics Canada said on Friday.
The rise followed increases of 0.2 percent in February and 1.9 percent in January, but did not completely wipe out steep declines in November and December. March's sales were still 6.3 percent lower than the peak reached in September.
Analysts said the retail numbers suggest tepid gross domestic product data for the month. March and first quarter GDP numbers will be released on June 1.
"While retail spending picked up pace in March, other segments of the economy failed to perform, raising the risk that real GDP in March fell more than February's modest 0.1 percent decline," RBC assistant chief economist Dawn Desjardins said. She pointed to lower sales by manufacturers and wholesalers, released earlier.
Scotia Capital suggested March's GDP would turn out to be unchanged, with first-quarter GDP down by an annualized 6.4 percent from the fourth quarter.
One bright spot in Friday's numbers was that the volume of retail sales rose 0.7 percent, with lower prices limiting the increase in the dollar value of sales.
The value of new car sales rose by 3.6 percent as dealers offered higher rebates, for instance, while the number of new motor vehicles sold had earlier been reported as rising 6.3 percent.
Overall retail sales, excluding cars and auto parts, fell by 0.2 percent. A Reuters survey of analysts had forecast an increase of 0.5 percent overall and a fall of 0.1 percent excluding autos.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson