If Americans were talking with their wallets in February, they were saying that their comfort with the economy is improving. During the month, retail sales and food services rose by $3.7 billion, or 1.0%, according to the Census Bureau. This marks the eighth straight month that retail sales have grown. At a seasonally adjusted total of $387.1 billion, the month's spending also set another new high. While rising food and gasoline prices helped boost this number, even if you take them out of the equation, sales still rose by 0.9%. It's pretty clear that Americans aren't shy about spending anymore.
First, here's the historical chart, to provide some perspective of how far consumers have come since the deepest depths of the recession:
Since December 2008, total monthly sales have risen by $51.5 billion -- an increase of 15.4%.
The rate at which retail sales and food services grew was also relatively high in February. The $3.7 billion increase was the biggest since October.
Perhaps what's most surprising about this increase is that gasoline prices began rising quite steeply in February. Oil doesn't appear to be affecting spending much yet, however. Here's the chart for spending if you take out gas stations, food and beverage stores, and food services and drinking places: