US retail sales recorded their largest gain in one and a half years in March, in the latest sign the country’s economy was emerging from its weather-induced slumber.

The US Commerce Department said retail sales increased 1.1% last month, the biggest rise since September 2012, as receipts rose in nearly all categories.

Retail sales, which account for a third of consumer spending, had risen by a revised 0.7% in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales, advancing 0.8% last month after a previously reported 0.3% gain in February.

Retail sales added to employment data in suggesting the economy found momentum at the end of the first quarter after an unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity at the end of 2013 and the beginning of this year.

So-called core sales, which strip out automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, and correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, increased 0.8% in March.

That followed a revised 0.4% rise in February. 

Core retail sales had previously been reported to have increased 0.3% in February.

Despite the two consecutive months of gains, a drop in core sales in January suggests consumer spending will slow down substantially from the fourth quarter's brisk 3.3% pace.

Retail sales last month were buoyed by a 3.1% surge in receipts at automobile and parts dealers. That was the biggest advance since September 2012. 

Excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.7%, the biggest increase in a year, after rising 0.3% in February.

Sales at building materials and garden equipment stores increased 1.8%, the largest rise in eight months.

Receipts at electronics and appliance stores, however, fell 1.6%. There were also declines in sales at gasoline stations, which fell 1.3%. 

Excluding gasoline, retail sales rose a solid 1.4%, the biggest rise in four years.

Sales at furniture stores increased 1%. Receipts at clothing stores climbed 1% as well. There were also gains in receipts at sporting goods shops, restaurants and nonstore retailers.