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/ Source: Reuters

Retail sales recorded their largest gain in 18 months in March, in the latest sign the economy is emerging from its weather-induced slumber and on track to accelerate in the second quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Monday that retail sales increased 1.1 percent last month, the biggest rise since September 2012, as receipts rose in nearly all categories. Retail sales, which account for a third of consumer spending, had risen by a revised 0.7 percent in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast an advance of 0.8 percent last month.

A crowd of shoppers at Target. Retail sales rose the most in March since September, 2012, the Commerce Department reported.© Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters / REUTERS

Retail sales added to employment data in suggesting the economy found momentum at the end of the first quarter after an unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity at the end of 2013 and the beginning of this year.

So-called core sales, which strip out automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, and correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, increased 0.8 percent in March. That followed a revised 0.4 percent rise in February.

Retail sales last month were buoyed by a 3.1 percent surge in receipts at automobile and parts dealers. That was the biggest advance since September 2012. Excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.7 percent, the biggest increase in a year, after rising 0.3 percent in February.

Sales at building materials and garden equipment stores increased 1.8 percent, the largest rise in eight months. Receipts at electronics and appliance stores, however, fell 1.6 percent. There were also declines in sales at gasoline stations, which fell 1.3 percent.

Sales at furniture stores and clothing stores climbed 1.0 percent. There were also gains in receipts at sporting goods shops, restaurants and non-store retailers.

- Reuters