Retail sales in February rose, just barely

WASHINGTON - Americans spent only slightly more last month at retail stores compared with January, a sign of consumer caution despite rising optimism about the economy.

The Commerce Department says retail sales ticked up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in February, after a much bigger gain of 0.6 percent the previous month. January’s gain was revised higher.

The figures suggest that strong job gains this year, near record-high stock prices and decent pay gains haven’t yet lifted spending. But last month’s sluggish pace could prove temporary.

Economists note that spending was likely held back by delays in tax refund payments. A new law has required tougher scrutiny of a tax credit claimed by lower-income taxpayers. Walmart (WMT) said last month that the delay had slowed sales at its stores in February.