New statistics provide some much-needed positive news for the US economy, though analysts remain cautious about the long-term outlook.

Latest Commerce Department figures show that retail sales bounced back from a 1.3% decline in February to rise 2.1% in March, the steepest month-on-month rise in over a year.

Such acceleration largely reflects a 5.3% surge in sales of automobiles; without these, retail sales rose just 1.1%.

However, the increase may not herald a sudden upturn in consumer spending – analysts warned many March purchases may have been delayed from February, when bad weather hit sales figures.

Separately, the University of Michigan’s closely watched confidence index recorded a rebound in consumer sentiment. The barometer jumped from March’s dismal 77.6 to a reading of 83.2 in mid-April, possibly boosted by positive developments in the war in Iraq.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff