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by Steve Goldstein
MarketWatch.com

WASHINGTON — February may be the second-least important month of the year for retailers, but indications are that the monthly sales report for that period could be a blowout.

Economists polled by MarketWatch expect a 1.4% advance, which would put the year-on-year total up an impressive 9.3%, the fastest rate of growth since March 2000, when retail sales grew 9.9%. The Commerce Department releases the data at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Friday.

There’s good reason for that optimism. Car sales have been stellar, with the year-on-year growth rate surging 27.5% in February. See related story on car sales. But even excluding autos, retail sales are still seen up 1% compared to January levels.

Another reason: for the 28 retailers that released same-store sales data, revenue climbed 4.2% year-on-year in February, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Total store sales (which would include those open less than a year) improved 6.6%, the ICSC said. See related story on same-store sales.

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