Retail sales show gains, consumer prices up slightly

Retail sales were up more than expected in March, as good weather and auto incentives prompted consumers to start shopping again and put their mark on the nation's economic recovery.

Sales were up for the third straight month, showing a 1.6 percent increase in March, the most in four months, up from February's revised 0.5 gain. The gains represent across the board sales increases for cars, clothing, home furnishings and building supplies, according to Commerce Department figures released Wednesday. 

The numbers signal that consumers will play a potentially larger role in the economic recovery instead of solely relying on manufacturing for economic expansion. 

Auto sales rose 6.7 percent -- General Motors has reported double-digit increases in sales in the first quarter of 2010 -- the most since October. Excluding auto, sales were up 0.6 percent, still ahead of analysts predictions. 

While sales were up, consumer prices ticked up slightly, up 0.1 percent in March, in line with expectations. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told a Congressional panel today that long-run inflation expectations appear stable and expected inflation over the next five to 10 years as measure by a survey was 2.75 percent in March, which is at the lower end of the narrow range that has prevailed for the past few years. 

In March, prices outside food and energy rose 1.1 percent in the past 12 months, the slowest pace in six year. Still with employment making small gains and hourly earnings falling, personal budgets are still under pressure. 

Core prices, excluding food and energy, remained unchanged last month.