Shoppers snapped up new cars, clothing and electronics in February, pushing retail sales up for the eighth straight month.
Retail sales rose 1% last month, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Part of the gain reflected higher prices for gasoline. Still, excluding sales at gas stations, retail sales rose a solid 0.9%.
February's jump in sales followed a strong upward revision that showed a 0.7% increase in January. That was more than double the original estimate.
Sales totaled $387.1 billion, up 15.3% from the recession low reached in December 2008. A Social Security tax cut and rising employment will likely encourage consumers to spend more this year, although higher gas prices will cut into their disposable income.
"This is a very encouraging report," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. He said spending should be a strong 3% or more in the first three months of this year. This category is closely watched because it accounts for 70% of total economic activity.
The tax cut is "undoubtedly still providing a temporary boost," Ashworth said. But he cautioned that higher energy prices would start affecting household budgets in the next month or two.
Separately, the Labor Department said job openings fell by 161,000 in January, or a 5.5% decline. Half of the drop was the result of fewer jobs advertised by state and local governments, many of which are grappling with budget crises.