WASHINGTON -- Retail sales surged last month at their fastest pace in 1-1/2 years as consumer spending heated up after a harsh winter.
The Commerce Department said Monday that seasonally adjusted retail sales increased 1.1% in March. Officials also revised February's figure up to a strong 0.7%, from an initially reported 0.3%.
Economists had expected a 1% increase last month.
"The consumer came in like a lamb and went out roaring like a lion," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
The March figure was the best since September 2012 and added to other recent data showing economic growth is accelerating after a weather-induced slowdown this winter.
"Spring is in the air indeed," Rupkey said. "The economy is on firm footing today and the future looks bright."
Retail sales had shown good growth in the fall before dropping with winter's arrival.
Sales were down 0.3% in December and then plunged 0.7% in January as extreme cold and snow hit much of the nation.
Auto sales were a major factor in March, jumping 9.5% from the previous month. Internet sales were up 7.8%, and building materials and garden equipment sales also were robust, rising 5.7%.
Excluding auto sales, which can be volatile, retail sales still rose 0.7% last month, the fastest pace since February 2013.