A Spring Upswing? Retail Sales Report Hints Yes

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Just as Mother Nature sent one last "I'm the boss here" blast of cold and snow to the Northeast, today's retail sales report for February looks suspiciously like a crocus, heralding a much warmer economy this spring.

The top line of the report was fine: Retail sales rose 0.3% from January, despite all the crazy weather, narrowly beating forecasts for a 0.2% gain. But the really good part was in the details. The industries that need to perk up for spring and summer to match relatively high expectations are mostly performing well, and the ones that are in the dumps don't seem ominous with a little thought.


WATCH: Retail Sales Gain for First Time in Three Months, Jobless Claims Dip

Let's dispatch the bad news first.

Out of the box, dismiss the 0.1% gain in gasoline sales, which were nearly 5% lower than a year ago. The whole drop can be explained by lower gas prices, especially in the first two weeks of February.

Next -- and this is a big one -- discount the fact that auto sales rose 0.3% in February and 2.2% over a year ago. (Auto sales, as 19% of all retail sales, matter a lot). True, the year-over-year pace is less than a third of the gain reported this time last year. But car lots are among the businesses most affected by the weather, and Credit Union National Association chief economist Bill Hampel said last week that car sales growth will rebound  as the weather warms. Fundamentally, the U.S. auto fleet is still nearly as old as it's ever been, and people's job security is much stronger than it has been, he says.

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