Despite the sharp rise in gas prices over the past month, retail sales increased by 1.1 percent in February, the largest percentage increase in five months. Excluding automobile sales (which are counted by the Commerce Department as retail sales), February sales were up by 0.9 percent — exceeding expectations (a Bloomberg News survey of economists found the median prediction was for a 0.7 percent increase, excluding autos).
In more positive news, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) small business optimism index rose to 94.3, its highest level since December 2007 and the sixth straight monthly increase.
Through 11 a.m. Tuesday, the DJIA was up 0.52 percent to 13,027 and the NASDAQ was up 0.74 percent to 3,005.
IHS Global Insight’s U.S. economist Chris Christopher attributed at least some of the good news to the recent string of good weather:
“Retailers had a good month in February as unseasonably warm weather, increased consumer confidence, better job prospects, and a strong stock market helped Americans open their wallets despite feeling the pinch at the pump.”
Christopher also noted that retail spending last month was spread across multiple industry sectors (11 out of the 13 sectors that make up the Commerce Dept. report showed positive gains) and that personal spending adjusted for inflation can be expected to increase by 2.0 percent for the first quarter of 2012.