RTTNews - Canadian retail sales increased for the third consecutive month in March, rising 0.3% in current dollars to $33.9 billion, according to data released Friday morning by Statistics Canada. Higher sales at new car dealers was the main contributor to this increase. In volume terms, retail sales rose 0.7%.

The three consecutive months of gains in retail sales in current dollars have not completely offset the sharp declines reported in November and December. March's retail sales stood 6.3% lower than the peak reached in September 2008. Most of this decline reflects price changes. In volume terms, sales are down 2.6% from September 2008.

The main contributor to the rise in retail sales was a 3.6% increase in sales at new car dealers. This was lower than the 6.3% rise in the number of new motor vehicles sold reported by the New Motor Vehicle Sales Survey, as dealers offered higher rebates. The automotive sector as a whole increased by 0.5%, as the rise in sales at new car dealers was partially offset by lower sales at gasoline stations (-2.8%) and used and recreational motor vehicle and parts dealers (-2.6%).

Sales at food and beverage stores rose for the third consecutive month, increasing 0.9%. This reflects in part higher food prices. Food and beverage stores and pharmacies and personal care stores are the only two sectors where March's sales level was above the October 2008 level.

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