February retail sales: Biggest gain in 5 months

WASHINGTON - Americans stepped up spending on retail goods in February, evidence that a stronger job market is boosting the economy.

Consumers bought more autos, clothes and appliances. They also paid higher prices for gas.

The Commerce Department says retail sales increased 1.1 percent last month, the biggest gain since September. Auto sales were strong and department stores had their biggest gain in more than a year.

Even without a 3.3 percent rise in gasoline sales, retail sales would have increased a solid 0.8 percent.

The gain pushed retail sales to a record $407.8 billion. That's 20.1 percent higher than the recession low hit in March 2009.