NEW YORK: 'For this relief much thanks!' A phrase which – if not actually on the lips of US economists – was at the forefront of their minds as they pored over February's retail sales data.

The Thomson Financial Same Store Sales Index rose 2.2%, a full percentage point above expectations.

The surprise uplift compares with less than 1% both for December and January. Especially the latter, which managed only a meager 0.3% increase, the lowest (net of seasonal variations) since the index registered a flat reading in March 2003.

Leading the charge of the Shoppers Brigade was Wal-Mart Stores, up 2.6% in US same-store sales excluding fuel, well ahead of the retailer's own forecast the previous month.

According to Thomson, 60% of the firms surveyed achieved  better than expected results.

Comments Sheris Mityas at retail conultancy A T Kearney: "Consumers are evidently a little more resilient than folks have given them credit for."

[Realists, however, are asking if the sales hike was achieved at the expense of margins as retailers slash prices in order to move inventory?]

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff