WASHINGTON — Retail sales increased more than economists expected in August, rising 0.4% to post their strongest gain in five months, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Excluding auto sales, retail sales increased 0.6%, their largest expansion since March. Excluding autos, gasoline and building material, retail was up 0.5% for the month. Economists expected 0.3% gains for August retail sales and retail sales excluding autos, according to the median estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Retail sales for July were revised downward to a gain of 0.3% from the 0.4% expansion initially reported. July sales excluding autos were revised downward to a 0.1% increase from the previous 0.2%.

August sales for motor vehicles and parts declined 0.7%, and sales at electronics and appliance stores fell by 1.1% — the largest contraction since March. August sales at general merchandise stores increased 0.4%.

“Retail sales increased for the second month in a row,” Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note. It’s “relatively good news and corresponds with the same improvement in consumer confidence.”

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