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by Andrea Chang

Retailers beat June gloom last month, delivering surprisingly strong sales results thanks to lower gas prices, widespread discounting and warm weather, which led many shoppers to hit the stores for summer clothing.

With the important back-to-school season next on the retail calendar, consumers gave merchants the kind of month they had been hoping for after a good but not great first half of the year. Combined with better-than-expected labor market data Thursday, the retail report led to a stock market rally and helped lift optimism a day before U.S. employment figures were released.

“It was a very robust month. It’s the type of momentum that the retailers would like to build and carry over into back-to-school,” said Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics Inc. Combined with other improving economic trends, “it seems to suggest that we’re pulling out of a soft patch and there’s going to be a stronger second half of economic growth.”

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