OTTAWA - Canadian retail sales grew by 0.4 per cent in March as higher sales at auto dealerships and general merchandise stores outweighed widespread weakness in other sectors, Statistics Canada said on Friday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 0.3 per cent gain. The month-on-month increase was the largest since the 3.3 per cent jump seen in October 2017.

Overall, sales grew in just four of the 11 subsectors, representing 47 per cent of retail trade. In volume terms, sales edged up 0.3 per cent.

Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers - which represented more than a quarter of all retail trade in February - posted a 1.4 per cent gain from January. Excluding autos, retail sales were unchanged.

General merchandise stores posted a 2.0 per cent gain, the fourth increase in five months. Sales at gasoline stations fell by 0.9 per cent, the first decline since June 2017.