Higher Gas Prices Failed to Dampen February Retail Sales

Retail sales grew in February at their fastest pace in five months, government data showed on Tuesday, buoyed by sales of motor vehicles despite higher prices at the pump.

Total retail sales increased 1.1 percent, the Commerce Department said, after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent rise in January. Motor vehicle sales rose 1.6 percent in February, reflecting pent-up demand by households and growing confidence in the economy as the job market continued to improve. Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.9 percent last month.

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Gas prices rose 20 cents last month, but sales at gasoline stations surged 3.3 percent, the biggest gain since March of last year, after rising 1.9 percent in January. Excluding autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.6 percent in February after increasing 1.0 percent the previous month. Gasoline accounted for 11.5 percent of retail sales in February.

Clothing store receipts were up 1.8 percent last month, the largest increase since November 2010, as unseasonably mild weather boosted traffic to shopping malls, even though retailers had to offer steep discounts on winter merchandise to clear the shelves. Sales at building materials and garden equipment suppliers rose 1.4 percent.

Core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline, and building materials, rose 0.5 percent last month after rising 1.0 percent in January. Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.8 percent, while receipts at sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores increased 1.0 percent. Sales of electronics and appliances rose 1.0 percent. Furniture store sales rose 1.2 percent.

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