U.S. retail sales grew robustly in August for the third month in a row as consumers filled shopping malls and rushed to take advantage of financing bargains at car showrooms, government data showed Friday.

Retail sales jumped 0.8 percent last month, the Commerce Department said. That followed increases of 1.1 percent in July and 1.4 percent in June and signaled the consumer sector, which drives two-thirds of economic growth, is still thriving even as the rest of the economy struggles.

Excluding automobiles, retail sales rose 0.4 percent after a 0.2 percent increase in July and a 0.4 percent rise in June.

The figures outpaced the expectations of U.S. economists polled in a Reuters survey. Analysts had forecast a 0.5 percent rise in overall retail sales and a 0.1 percent gain in sales excluding automobiles.

The report may reinforce expectations that the Federal Reserve will hold interest rates steady at its next meeting on Sept. 24, declining the option of slashing borrowing costs.