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Revived auto sales send US retail to 2-year high

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Washington (AFP)

Booming auto and gasoline sales in September pushed the US retail sector to its highest level in more than two years, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The roaring trade in cars, car parts and fuel helped bring retail sales to life after a year of moribund results and could support stronger GDP growth in the third quarter.

American consumers plunked down $483.9 billion for the month, seasonally adjusted, which was up 1.6 percent over August, and also the largest monthly increase since March of 2015, but in line with analyst expectations.

The result was also 4.4 percent above September of last year.

"The size of the gain in headline retail sales was driven by hurricane effects from replacing destroyed vehicles, purchase of building materials to repair storm damage, and a surge in fuel prices," the analyst firm RDQ Economics said Friday.

For the retail numbers, the precise effects of the three hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria, which slammed into US territory between August and September, could not be determined, according to the Commerce Department's Census Bureau.

Sales at auto dealers were up 3.6 percent, also the biggest jump since March 2015. Meanwhile, gasoline stations had their best month since February 2013, adding 5.8 percent in sales, putting them up more than 11 percent over the same month last year.

Excluding the volatile auto and fuel sector, sales rose a more modest 0.5 percent for the month, up from August's 0.1 percent gain.

Bars and restaurants had a good month, adding 0.8 percent.

Internet and non-store retailers like Amazon and Jet also continued to expand, rising by 0.5 percent. Department store sales, however, continued to sink, falling 0.4 percent for the month after losing 0.2 percent in August.

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