In growth mode: retail sales, prices

US consumers hit stores and new-car showrooms in droves in April, giving retail sales their biggest boost since last fall, the government said Tuesday in a report showing the economy with a surprising head of steam.

Retail sales rose an unexpectedly strong 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $300.27 billion in April, the Commerce Department said.

"The US consumer continually surprises to the upside, and this is yet another surprise," said Larry Rhame, US economist with Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York.

Sales at building-material and supplies dealers rose 2.7 percent, their fourth straight monthly gain, and sales at gasoline stations were up 2 percent. The only retail categories to register declines were furniture outlets, food-and-beverage stores, and sporting-goods shops.

The consumer price index also increased last month, by 0.6 percent. Higher energy prices drove much of that increase.

But the consumer spending that helped make the recession shallow is also fueling record numbers of bankruptcies. Filings jumped 15.2 percent in the 12 months ending Mar. 31, the Administrative Office of the US Courts reported.

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