WASHINGTON -- After a tightfisted March, U.S. consumers splurged in April and pushed retail sales up by 1.2 percent, the biggest increase in six months.

The latest sales snapshot released by the U.S. Commerce Department suggests that consumers are helping to support the budding economic recovery by keeping their pocketbooks and wallets open.

The April advance came after retail sales nudged up by 0.1 percent in March and was stronger than the 0.6 percent gain many analysts were forecasting. Consumers, whose spending accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States, snapped up cars, building materials, garden supplies and health care and beauty products last month. They also ate out more.