Consumers spent more in March on furniture, electronics — like new high-definition television sets — and at restaurants, despite an additional cost because of the rising price of gasoline. Declining unemployment numbers and a cut in payroll taxes so far this year are helping sustain sales.
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Sales at U.S. retailers rose in March for a ninth consecutive month, showing the improving job market is helping Americans cope with higher costs for fuel and food.
Purchases increased 0.4 percent following a 1.1 percent February gain that was larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed Wednesday.
Declining unemployment and a cut in payroll taxes for 2011 are helping sustain sales at chains like Macy's Inc. and Saks Inc. Meanwhile, mounting gasoline and grocery bills are eroding confidence and pinching wallets, making it likely consumer spending cooled in the first quarter from the final three months of 2010.
"The consumer is holding up fairly well, given the sharp rise in prices at the pump and higher food prices at the grocery store," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics Inc.
"The fundamentals are in place for consumer spending to increase, such as the improvement in the labor market."
Sales excluding automobiles and service stations climbed 0.6 percent, exceeding the 0.5 percent median forecast of economists surveyed. The February reading was revised up to 0.9 percent from a previously estimated 0.6 percent increase.
Ten of 13 major categories showed gains last month, led by the biggest increase in furniture demand since 2004 and the largest advance in sales of electronics in a year.
Filling station sales climbed 2.6 percent.