By Jamie McGeever
BRASILIA, May 7 (Reuters) - Brazilian retail sales fell in March for a third month in four, official figures showed on Friday, but held up far stronger than economists had feared and expanded solidly on the same month last year.
The seasonally adjusted monthly decline of 0.6% in March was far less than the median forecast of a 7.0% decline in a Reuters poll of economists, while the year-on-year rise of 2.4% was stronger than the 1.7% fall forecast in the poll.
Statistics agency IBGE said sales fell in seven of the eight categories surveyed in March, led by a 41.5% fall in clothing and footwear, and a 22.0% fall in furniture and electrical goods.
The overall figures were buttressed by a 3.3% rise in food, drink and tobacco sales, IBGE figures showed.
Some 26% of firms across the country surveyed by IBGE said the COVID-19 pandemic affected sales in March, the highest percentage since July last year.
Since rebounding to record levels in October last year, the volume of retail sales in Latin America's largest economy has fallen 6.5%, IBGE said.
On a wider basis, including cars and building materials, retail sales in March fell 5.3% on the month, the biggest decline since April last year, but were up 10.1% from last March, IBGE said.
By this measure, retail sales in Brazil were still 10.1% down from their peak in August 2012, IBGE said. (Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Catherine Evans and Steve Orlofsky)