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Retail sales post promising gain in February

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By Martin Crutsinger

WASHINGTON (AP) — Retail sales posted a surprising increase in February as consumers did not let major snowstorms stop them from storming the malls. The advance, the biggest since November, provided hope that the recovery from the Great Recession is gaining momentum.

The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February, surpassing expectations that sales would decline by 0.2 percent.

The overall gain was held back by a 2 percent decline in auto sales, reflecting in part the recall problems at Toyota. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.8 percent, far better than the 0.1 percent rise outside of autos that economists had forecast.

The gains outside of autos were widespread with sales rising at department stores, furniture stores, appliance shops and hardware stores. Restaurants and bars enjoyed a 0.9 percent advance, their biggest gain in nearly two years, possibly an indication that snowbound Americans decided to visit their local eating and drinking establishments to get a break from their homes.

Consumer spending is being watched carefully because it accounts for 70 percent of total economic activity. Economists have been worried that the economic recovery they believe began last summer could falter if consumer spending begins to lag. The better-than-expected February gain could ease those concerns.


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