Spring will arrive early when retailers report February receipts Thursday, with same-store sales expected to blow away the previous year's results, thanks to better weather. On the basis of the month's solid weekly results, overall February same-store sales are now seen up 6% to 7%, an increase from the 5% to 6% rise originally forecast, said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers. The group tracks and compiles weekly and monthly same-store sales from 77 retailers. January's total increase was 5.8%, while same-store sales in February 2003 increased just 0.9%, according to the ICSC. "The strength is being seen across retailers," Niemira said. "Mall-based retailers are particularly strong." Most same-store sales reports will be released on Thursday, after a handful are released Wednesday. Backing the blowout thesis is a National Retail Federation monthly survey that found that consumers shopped and spent money freely last month. "Retail executives are telling us that consumers continue to shop and buy," said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive of the NRF. "Due to seasonable weather and strong Valentine's Day sales, it will be no surprise if February retail sales beat current expectations." The most surprising monthly increase was in customer traffic, which the NRF said "soared" in February. The survey also found that retail executives continue to be confident that the economy will maintain its current growth. February was "one of the best months without any qualification whatsoever in many, many years," said one buy-side analyst who asked not to be named. "You're up against the march toward war last year. At the same time everyone was fixated on Iraq, we had terrible weather. This year the weather was normal." He cited the huge snowstorm that hit the Northeast over Presidents' Day weekend last year, which has made year-over-year comparisons easier.