Way higher than expected, especially with the rising price of gas. February sales jumped to an annual rate of 15.1 million, the highest level in four years (during the height of the recession the annual rate was 9.1 million). As for the individual automakers, Chrysler was up 40 percent from a year earlier, Ford 14 percent, GM just 1 percent (2011 was unusually strong because of a discount program). All these sales should help the first-quarter gross domestic product, which many economists are expecting to be weak. (NYT, Calculated Risk)
For all the usual caveats (gas prices, still-high unemployment, housing, Iran, Europe), it's hard to believe that a significant recovery is not taking root. What's significant? At least enough to be noticed by a large percentage of the population. From the WSJ:
The number of Americans filing initial claims for government unemployment benefits has fallen to levels last seen before Lehman Brothers collapsed, the Labor Department said. The stock market, a leading indicator of growth, is off to its best start this year since 1998 and notched more gains Thursday. Meantime, consumer confidence has reclaimed ground lost last year and another report showed that income growth is firming.
Recent job gains have been broader based and longer lasting than at other points in the recovery. Household saving is up and the home-building market is showing tentative signs of improvement. And while government data on consumer spending remain soft, auto makers on Thursday said February's sales had been the fastest in four years. Retailers also said they posted big year-over-year gains in February, with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. saying its crucial U.S. business is "back on track."