Outlook brightens as retail sales rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought more electronics, started home improvement projects and updated their wardrobes last month, inspired by warmer weather and a healthier job market.

U.S. retail sales rose 0.8 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Monday.

The increase capped a strong quarter of gains and contributed to a brighter outlook among economists for growth in the January-March quarter. Businesses are responding by restocking their shelves at a steady pace, a sign they expect the trend to carry over into spring.

More retail spending also helped offset a decline in confidence among homebuilders. And it could ease concerns about March hiring, which slowed to half the pace of the previous three months.

“Retail sales soared in March with stores in just about every category recording sharp increases over February levels,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors. “And let’s not forget, the February spending was strong.”

Shoppers bought more furniture, groceries, clothes and sporting goods last month. They also paid more for gas.

Still, excluding cars, gas and food, sales rose 8.2 percent in the first quarter, the most in two years.

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