Canadians opened their wallets in February defying economist expectations

Retail sales rose by 0.4 per cent in February to $44.2 billion, blowing away economists expectations of a slight decline.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that sales were higher in 9 of 11 retail sectors, with the main exception being gasoline. Gas prices fell precipitously during the month, dragging sales almost 5 per cent lower in dollar terms. If gas stations are stripped out of the numbers, retail sales increased by one per cent.

Sales increased in eight provinces, and fell in two — Saskatchewan and Alberta.

After even stronger retail sales numbers in January, economists polled by Bloomberg had been expecting a pullback of about 0.8 per cent in February. But that didn't happen as Canadians opened their wallets and bought more of just about everything.

"U.S. cross-border shoppers could be providing a lift as well, attracted by the weak Canadian dollar," BMO economist Benjamin Reitzes said in a note to clients after the numbers came out.

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