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Markets gained today on reports showing consumers are spending more and feeling less pessimistic about the economy — but retail stocks slipped into the red just before the close.

The S&P Retail Index dipped late in the day, ending down 0.05 points to 622.38, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 0.5 percent, or 66.22 points, to 13,212.04.

Consumer sentiment rose to 76.2 in March from 75.3 in February, according to the Thomson Reuters/ University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. Economists expected confidence to slip to 75.

The survey found that income gains and improvement in the job market offset rising gas prices, with more households reporting an improved financial situation than anytime in the past four years.

“Although consumers are not yet optimistic about future economic prospects, pessimism has recently faded at a rapid pace,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist at the Surveys of Consumers.

Buttressing the reading was a report from the Commerce Department showing that personal incomes rose 0.2 percent in February from January as personal consumption expenditures grew a stronger-than-expected 0.8 percent to $86 billion.

Liz Claiborne Inc. was among the day’s biggest gainers, rising 12.9 percent to $13.36 on reports — which it denied — that private equity firms were interested in buying the company. Also perking up were The Jones Group Inc., gaining 8.2 percent to $12.56; True Religion Apparel Inc., 3.6 percent to $27.40; Lululemon Athletica Inc., 2.2 percent to $74.73, and Michael Kors Holdings, 2 percent to $46.59.

The Euro zone also delivered signs of progress on the fiscal front. Spain announced $36 billion worth of cuts as part of a new austerity budget, and the region’s finance ministers agreed to increase the Euro zone bailout fund to $1.1 trillion.

And France’s public sector deficit fell to 5.2 percent of GDP in 2011 from 7.1 percent in the previous year, according to the statistics agency Insee. The country’s debt, however, is about 86 percent of GDP, compared with the European Union target of 60 percent.

Markets on the continent gained ground.

Paris’ CAC 40 rose 1.3 percent to 3,423.81, followed by Frankfurt’s DAX, which advanced 1 percent to 6,946.83. London’s FTSE 100 and Milan’s FTSE MIB each climbed 0.5 percent to 5,768.45 and to 15,980.07, respectively.

In the fashion and retail world, Hugo Boss advanced 2.4 percent to 86.24 euros as French Connection rose 2.1 percent to 48 pence, L’Oreal gained 2.9 percent to 92.49 euros, and Beiersdorf advanced 2.5 percent to 48.92 euros.

The euro traded at $1.33 while the pound traded at $1.59.