U.S. retail sales rise 9.8% in March

Americans loaded their shopping carts in March. The Commerce Department said Thursday retail sales rose nearly 10 percent as consumers used their government relief checks and more vaccinated shoppers visited stores. February’s tally was also revised upward.

Leading the rebound: auto sales. Receipts at dealerships surged 15%. Consumers also splurged on clothing, electronics and furniture. Warmer temperatures and the improved health situation helped boost receipts at restaurants and bars.

The solid sales data cements expectations for robust economic growth in the first quarter. Annualized growth estimates are as high as 9.8% --- more than double the pace of the fourth quarter. The economy is expected to grow 7% for the full year.

Investors got more data Thursday underscoring better economic prospects. The number of Americans filing initial claims for jobless benefits fell to 576,000 last week. That’s its lowest level since mid-March 2020.