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March retail sales warm up

WASHINGTON — Retailers warmed up in March as the winter chill faded, and it wasn’t just car dealers who benefited.

Sales jumped a greater-than-forecast 1.1 percent, the biggest gain since September 2012, following a 0.7 percent advance in February that was more than twice as large as previously reported, Commerce Department figures showed Monday. Ten of 13 categories showed a pickup.

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More seasonable temperatures brought out shoppers who had holed up at the start of the year. While the surge in sales came too late to boost economic growth in the first quarter, it will probably propel a marked rebound from April through June.

‘‘It really is a story of pent-up demand,’’ said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. ‘‘As employment levels continue to improve at a modest pace, so too should consumer spending.’’

The sales figures used to calculate gross domestic product, which exclude categories such as auto dealers and gasoline stations, showed a 0.8 percent increase, the biggest since January 2013, after a 0.4 percent advance in February.

After Monday’s report, economists at Morgan Stanley projected that the economy expanded at a 1.2 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, followed by an acceleration to around 3.5 percent from April through June.

Excluding declining receipts at gasoline stations, retail sales jumped 1.4 percent last month, the most since March 2010.

The increase last month was led by the biggest gain in motor vehicle purchases since September 2012. Sales at department and general merchandise stores jumped 1.9 percent, the most since March 2007.

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