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by Ariana Eunjung Cha

Retail sales in August experienced the biggest jump in five months, in an encouraging sign that the economy is slowly regaining its footing.

The Commerce Department reported that purchases were up 0.4 percent from July to August as consumers returned to department stories, clothing boutiques, sporting good outlets and a wide range of other shops. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a rise of 0.3 percent.

Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, retail sales jumped 0.6 percent–double what economists had forecast.

Retail outlets and local governments have been aggressively courting customers with tax-free holidays and bigger-than-usual back-to-school discounts. Purchases in eight of 13 major categories of retailers increased. Spending was up 1.2 percent at clothing retailers and 0.4 percent at general merchandise shops.

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