Sales at U.S. retailers rose a stronger-than-expected 0.6 percent in June, boosted by a big jump in auto sales, Commerce Department data showed on Tuesday.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.4 percent gain, after a 0.5 percent advance in May.

Excluding autos and parts, which recorded a 2.3 percent gain, retail sales were up a more modest 0.3 percent, short of analysts' expectations for a 0.5 percent advance.

Gasoline stations showed strong gains, helped by rising prices. The average price per gallon of gas rose to $2.68 in June from $2.32 in May, according to government data.

Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales were down 0.2 percent, the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Department stores and restaurants were among the laggards, suggesting that consumers remained reluctant to resume discretionary spending despite signs the recession may be drawing to a close.

(Reporting by Emily Kaiser, Editing by Neil Stempleman)