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Retail Sales Likely Rose on Autos, Fuel

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Autos big driver of increased retail sales Autos big driver of increased retail sales

Retail sales in the U.S. probably rose in February by the most in five months, spurred by the strongest demand for automobiles since 2008, economists said before reports this week.

The 1.1 percent rise would follow a 0.4 percent gain in January, according to the median forecast of 67 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News ahead of Commerce Department figures due March 13. Industrial production picked up in February, while inflation excluding food and energy remained in check.

Sales at retailers like Gap Inc. (GPS) and Target Corp. (TGT) last month beat analysts’ estimates, a sign an improving job market is helping bolster consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy. A pickup in payrolls, accompanied by limited wage growth, may not be enough to satisfy Federal Reserve officials, who this week will probably reaffirm their commitment to keeping interest rates low through 2014.

“Retail sales could be pretty strong for February,” said Omair Sharif, an economist at RBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. “The better job growth numbers are helping. Fed policy makers are going to sit back and take stock” rather than make any new moves.

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