The Commerce Department reported(.pdf) that big increases in gasoline station sales and automobile sales drove overall retail sales in the U.S. higher by 1.1 percent in February following an upwardly revised gain of 0.6 percent in January.
Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales rose 0.9 percent last month and, excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose just 0.6 percent.
Surging pump prices more than offset falling demand as gasoline station sales jumped 3.3 percent in February after an increase of 1.9 percent the month prior. Motor vehicle sales rose 1.6 percent last month following a decline of 1.6 percent in January.
Clothing sales rose 1.8 percent, however, here too, rising prices played a significant role in the sales gains as the Labor Department recently reported that, over the last three months, the cost of apparel has been rising at an annual rate of more than 5 percent.
An unusually warm and dry winter has also spurred many purchases at home improvement stores, as sale there rose 1.4 percent for the second month in a row. Recall that the retail sales figures are adjusted for seasonal variations and holidays, but not rising prices, all of which makes the February surge less than what it appears.