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Americans Spending More; Retail Sales Up in February

There’s evidence that a stronger job market is boosting the economy.  Retail sales rose 1.1 percent in February.  Consumers bought more vehicles, clothes and appliance and they also paid higher prices for gas.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

The 1.1 percent increase last month is the largest gain since September according to the Commerce Department.

The government upwardly revised the previous two months.  Some economists are saying the increase combined with the revisions could lead to faster economic growth.  It also may put pressure on the Federal Reserve to rethink its plan to hold interest rates at record lows until at least late 2014.

One factor driving the increase was a 3.3 percent hike in gasoline sales last month, the biggest increase in nearly a year.  That, of course, reflected the surge in gas prices.  Excluding gasoline sales, retail sales were still up 0.8 percent.

Auto sales were up 1.6 percent while department stores increased 1.5 percent and sales of electronics rose 1 percent.

February’s gain pushed total sales to a record $407.8 billion, 20.1 percent higher than the recession low hit in March 2009.  The increase comes after the best three months of hiring in two years.  The economy has gained 734,000 jobs since December which has lowered the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent.

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