Sales at U.S. retail stores rose modestly in March, aided by stronger sales at new-car dealers, while February's sales decline was revised to a smaller drop than previously reported, a government report Thursday showed.

The Commerce Department said overall retail sales rose 0.6 percent last month after a revised 0.8 percent February fall that had been reported as a 1.4 percent drop. Sales excluding new cars and parts rose 0.4 percent in March following a revised 0.3 percent decrease in February that had been reported as a 0.6 percent fall.

The March figures were in line with Wall Street economists' forecasts for an overall 0.5 percent sales rise and for a 0.4 percent gain excluding cars and parts.

Sales of new cars and parts climbed 1.6 percent in March, bouncing back from a 2.8 percent February drop.

Despite analysts' concern that consumer spending might come under pressure as costs for energy and other goods rise, retail sales in the first quarter of this year have shown a relatively strong performance. Sales in January rose 3 percent overall and the department said that total sales for the January-to-March quarter this year were up 8.3 percent from the comparable first quarter of 2005.