Byline: Alison Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Retail sales of apparel edged up 1.1 percent in February to $11.4 billion, the largest increase since September, when back-to-school sales fueled a 1.2 percent increase, according to Commerce Department statistics released Tuesday.
Year-over-year sales at apparel and accessory stores were up 2.3 percent after a January sales increase of 0.7 percent.
General merchandise stores — discount, department and variety stores — posted an increase in sales last month of 0.6 percent, following an 0.8 percent gain in January. Sales for February totaled $33.2 billion. Compared with last year, sales were up 6.8 percent.
Broken down separately, sales at department stores were up 0.3 percent for the month to $25.8 billion, following a January rise of 0.9 percent. Year-over-year sales were up 5.9 percent.
Overall, retail sales totaled $265.7 billion in February, up 1.1 percent from January and 9.4 percent from February 1999. Excluding the volatile auto sales category, sales were up 1 percent. In January, retail sales increased a slim 0.4 percent, due mainly to inclement weather.
“Consumers shopped the newly arrived spring fashions, as well as home goods and electronics in February,” said Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “Despite efforts by the Federal Reserve to slow down spending, consumers showed no sign of moderating their spending. Consumer confidence remained high in light of a still strong economy and low unemployment levels.”
The Federal Reserve is expected to nudge up interest rates by a quarter percentage point to 6.0 percent at their meeting next Tuesday. That would add to the four quarter-point increases since June, which so far have had little impact on the economy.

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