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by Shan Li

Shoppers hit the malls in February with their wallets open and handed retailers a robust start to the spring season amid another sign of a recovering economy.

Strong retail sales and other good news about unemployment claims and consumer spending helped push the stock market up Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 28 points to 12,980 points. Retail analysts were upbeat about the coming months but cautioned that soaring gasoline prices could potentially damp consumer spending.

“February was obviously very encouraging,” said Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc. “The retailers got some great tail winds coming out of January with really great weather, they put new merchandise on the shelf, and consumer confidence is up because jobs are up. When you put all those together, it makes for a good month.”

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