Retail sales rose for the second month in February, despite severe winter storms that hammered large regions of the country. The Commerce Department said that retail and food service sales increased 0.3% from January to $355.5 billion.
The growth in retail sales surprised most analysts, who had forecast a decline of 0.2% after massive snow storms crippled the densely populated Northeast for much of last month.
The February advance in retail sales was broad-based, with only two of the 12 sectors measured registering declines. Automobile sales tumbled 2%, the steepest decline since September 2009, and health and personal care sales dropped 0.7%, the biggest fall since February 2004.
Excluding auto and auto parts sales and gasoline service station sales, which can vary widely from month to month, retail sales accelerated to a 0.9% gain in February after rising 0.5% in January.
The Commerce Department slashed the January increase from December to 0.1% from the 0.5% originally estimated.
On a 12-month basis, retail sales were 3.9% higher than in February 2009, when the government passed a nearly $800 billion stimulus package.
President Barack Obama's administration and the Federal Reserve have predicted consumer spending would remain weak in 2010 and, unlike in past recoveries, would not be the main driver of economic growth.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010