NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Consumers are the most optimistic they've been since the recession began, and retail investors are sharing in their giddiness.

Stocks across the sector were trading broadly in the green Tuesday, with the S&P Retail Index gaining 2% to 368.67 in morning action.

The Conference Board said Tuesday its Consumer Confidence index rose to 54.1 in August from 47.4 in July. Economists expected a slight increase to 47.5.

Retail's Got It Going On

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While the index was still far below 90, the minimum level associated with recovery, other good news in the retail sector showed promise.

Consumers' expectations for the economy over the next six months rose, according to another Conference Board measure, to 73.5 from 63.4 in July, the highest level since December 2007, when the recession began.

And it looks like shoppers are following through with this glass-half-full mindset. Retail sales for the week ended Aug. 22 rose 0.6%, according to a report by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

With temperatures heating up across the country, the biggest gains were seen in sales of fans and air conditioners, a plus for discounters like

Big Lots

(BIG) - Get Report

.

In fact, the close-out retailer reported a 9% jump in second-quarter profit, as shoppers turn to bargain stores for lower prices on necessities like cleaning products and paper goods.

Shares of the company soared 8% to $25.98 in midday trading. Rival

Wal-Mart Stores

(WMT) - Get Report

was up 1% to $52.25,

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

rose 3% to $46.68, and

Costco Wholesale

(COST) - Get Report

increased 3% to $49.47.

Another big gainer

was Chico's FAS (CHS) - Get Report, which saw its second-quarter profit more than double

, resulting in an 9% hike in morning trading to $13.01.

The better-than-expected results sent shares of other women's apparel retailers higher in Tuesday's session.

AnnTaylor Stores

(ANN)

grew 4% to $13.69,

Talbots

(TLB)

increased 4% to $6.24,

New York & Company

(NWY)

rose 6% to $4.62 and

Dress Barn

( DBRN) climbed 4% to $16.30.

One of the only retailers in the red was

Staples (SPLS) , which posted a 38% plunge in its second-quarter profit

due to a hefty restructuring charge and soft sales.

Shares of the office-supplies retailer slipped 0.5% to $22.08.

-Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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