U.S. Retail Sales Jump

U.S. Retail Sales Jump

WASHINGTON – Retail sales in the United States rose more than expected in February, suggesting that consumer spending this quarter will hold up despite higher taxes.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that retail sales increased 1.1 percent last month, the largest rise since September, after a revised 0.2 percent gain in January.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected retail sales, which account for about 30 percent of consumer spending, to rise 0.5 percent last month after a previously reported 0.1 percent gain in January.

So-called core sales, which strip out automobiles, gasoline and building materials and correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, rose 0.4 percent after advancing 0.3 percent in January.

The rise in core sales was the latest suggestion of momentum in the economy even as fiscal policy tightened, marked by the end of a 2 percent payroll tax cut and an increase in tax rates for wealthy Americans in January.

The gains in core sales in the first two months of the year offered hope that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the American economy, might not be slowing much this quarter after growing at a 2.1 percent annual rate over the last three months of 2012.

Receipts at auto dealerships rose 1.1 percent after falling 0.3 percent in January, the government said. Excluding autos, retail sales increased 1 percent, also the largest increase in five months. That followed a 0.4 percent advance in January.

Last month, the high gas prices helped to lift sales at gasoline stations by 5 percent, the largest increase since August. They had risen 0.7 percent in January. Excluding gasoline, sales rose 0.6 percent.

Sales at building materials and garden equipment suppliers increased 1.1 percent, reflecting gains in home building as the housing market recovery gains momentum. Receipts at clothing stores gained 0.2 percent.

Delays in tax refunds probably hurt sales at restaurants and bars, which fell 0.7 percent, while receipts at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores declined 0.9 percent. Sales of electronics and appliances slipped 0.2 percent, while receipts at furniture stores dropped 1.6 percent, the largest decline since April 2011.