Retail spending was a little better than expected in the U.S. last month, the government said, while the weakness in February wasn't quite as pervasive as previously believed.

The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.6% in March, adjusted for seasonal effects, while February's decline was revised to 0.8% from a previously reported 1.4%. Economists had been forecasting a gain of 0.5% for March, according to a

Bloomberg

survey.

The strong showing is of interest to traders trying to keep ahead of the

Federal Reserve

, which next meets May 10. Policymakers have vowed a "data-dependent" approach to rates in coming months, and with the consumer making up two-thirds of economic activity, Thursday's numbers could be significant.

A dropoff in auto and auto parts sales was the main reason for February's weak number.

March's gain was paced by cars and related merchandise, which rose 1.6% and made up two-tenths of one percentage point of the month's improvement. Furniture stores saw sales rise 0.5%, while electronics stores saw sales slip by 1.1%.

Stocks perked up on the report, with futures on the

S&P 500

going from 2 points to 4 points above fair value, while futures on the Nasdaq 100 went from 1 point above fair value to 3 points above. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond held steady at 5%.