OTTAWA — Retail sales increased for the third straight month in March, rising 0.3 per cent to $33.9 billion, largely on the strength of higher sales at new-car dealers.

The volume of retail sales rose 0.7 per cent.

Statistics Canada says the three consecutive months of gains in retail sales have not completely offset the sharp declines reported in November and December.

 

The agency says March’s retail sales were 6.3 per cent lower than their peak in September 2008, and the volume of sales were down 2.6 per cent.

StatsCan says the main contributor to the rise in retail sales was a 3.6 per cent increase in sales at new-car dealers, while the automotive sector as a whole increased by 0.5 per cent.

Higher food prices boosted sales at food-and-beverage stores rose 0.9 per cent, their third straight increase.

The largest drop in the four sectors that registered sales declines came at miscellaneous retailers where sales fell 0.7 per cent. The sector includes sporting goods stores and office supply stores.

Sales increased in seven provinces in March, led by a third straight month of rising sales in Quebec, at two per cent, and Ontario, at 0.6.

The largest sales decline in March was a 1.8 per cent drop in Alberta, coming on the heels of a 1.5 per cent decrease in February.