Consumers returned to department stores, shopping malls and auto dealerships in February, driving retail sales up 0.8 percent after a winter-related stall.
But analysts cautioned the rebound did not signal a spending spree, noting job and income growth has been modest at best for many consumers who are already burdened by heavy debt.
Consumer spending represents about two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity.
Much of the February strength came from auto dealerships, where sales shot up 2 percent, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Excluding autos, one-fourth of the overall total, sales rose just 0.4 percent.
Hoffman said the gain in car sales was due in part to rebates designed to clear showrooms and backlots after an anemic 0.1 percent increase in January.
The overall February performance was the best since a 0.9 percent increase in November. Sales had risen 0.7 percent in December.
Sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $201.1 billion, up from $199.5 billion in January when they slipped 0.1 percent, the first decline since last September. January sales initially were estimated to have fallen 0.3 percent.