By Vicki Needham - 04/16/12 04:29 PM EDT
“While retailers will wait until the end of April to gauge the success of the spring shopping season, it’s evident that consumers are holding their own against rising gas prices and other economic concerns," he said.
Consumers spent more on building materials, garden equipment, clothing, automobiles, furniture, electronics, books, music and other hobbies.
Without cars and gasoline, retail sales increased 0.7 percent while core sales — minus autos, gas and home supplies — were up 0.5 percent last month, the same as February's increase.
“Moderate retail sales growth in March will help to offset murkier recent economic employment data,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF's chief economist.
“We expect to see gains through the all-important summer months, but job and weak income growth coupled with stubbornly high gas costs will continue to force consumers to make tough, price-sensitive choices."
The economy added 120,000 jobs in March, a much slower pace than the more than 200,000 pace since December.
A separate report from Commerce showed that businesses increased their inventories by 0.6 percent in February, a signal that firms are expecting to consumer demand to continue.
Consumer spending represents 70 percent of economic activity and it vital to a more robust recovery.
Higher gas prices could be one reason why hiring slowed as businesses remain cautious. Prices at the pump were accelerating through the winter but appear to have stabilized and, in some cases, dropped a few cents.