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Sales at U.S. retailers surged in March by the most in a year and a half, the latest in a string of reports suggesting the economy is firming up after a soft spell of growth earlier in the year.

Retail sales soared 1.6% last month, the government said Thursday.

Sales of new cars and trucks rose 3.1% — the best performance this year — to give the broader retail industry a boost. Auto receipts represent about one-fifth of all retail sales.

Even if gas and autos are set aside, retail sales still rose a robust 0.9%. Among the big winners:
Internet retailers, clothing stores, home-furnishing outlets and grocers. Sales rose between 1% and 2% in those segments.

Pressure on commercial real estate to continue. Those renewing commercial space likely to benefit from stagnate to declining leasing cost.
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