WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. retail sales in March rose by the largest amount in 18 months, led by strong gains in sales of autos, furniture and a number of other products.

The commerce department said Monday that retail sales rose 1.1 percent in March, the best showing since September 2012. The government also revised February to a 0.7 percent gain, more than double its previous estimate. Sales had fallen in January and December.

Sales of autos climbed 3.1 percent while sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers retailers such as Wal-mart and Target and department stores, increased 1.9 percent, the strongest one-month gain since march 2007, before the country went through the recession.

The strong march gain was evidence that the economy is emerging from a harsh winter with some momentum.

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