U.S. consumers spent more in March, but most of the added money went to toward higher gas prices.
The Commerce Department says retail sales increased 0.4 percent last month, the ninth consecutive gain. However, the increase shrank to a slight 0.1 percent when sales at gasoline stations were excluded. But much of the weakness came from a big drop in auto sales. Excluding gasoline and autos, sales were up a more respectable 0.6 percent.
Economists are hoping that a payroll tax cut and brighter outlook for job growth will keep consumers shopping this year. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.