Broad-based strength in retail sales

WASHINGTON — Helped by the weather and stronger sales of cars and home improvement products, retail sales climbed unexpectedly higher during March, the Commerce Department reported, jumping 1.8 percent from February levels, and up 8.2 percent from the same period a year ago.

The strength in sales was broad-based, the agency reported, with gainers outnumbering losers by a margin of three to one. "March saw strong sales increases across the board," said Rosalind Wells, chief economist of the National Retail Federation. "Due to an early Easter and favorable spring fashions, consumers had plenty of reasons to shop last month."

Far and away the strongest retail channel were the nation's building material and garden supplies outlets, where weather, for once, worked in favor of retailers, driving sales up 10.6 percent from February, and up a heady 20.8 percent from prior-year levels. Auto sales were strong as well, rising 2.1 percent from February, and by a solid 7.2 percent from last year.

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