Canadian retail sales edged up 0.2% in February to $33.7 billion, according to data released Thursday by Statistics Canada. Economists expected retail sales to drop 0.4%.

This comes after large declines in retail sales in November and December, followed by a partial recovery in January. February's slight increase was price-driven, as sales were down 0.3% in volume terms.

Sales rose in five of eight retail sectors. The largest contributors to the increase in February were building and outdoor home supplies stores (+3.0%) and food and beverage stores (+0.7%). Higher sales at building and outdoor home supplies stores did not offset the declines observed in the previous two months, which totaled about 7%. As for food and beverage stores, the increase mostly reflects higher sales at beer, wine and liquor stores.

The largest decline was a 1.9% decrease in sales at furniture, home furnishings and electronics stores in February. Sales in this sector have decreased each month since July 2008.

The automotive sector posted a 0.3% sales decrease, mainly reflecting a 1.6% decline in the value of sales at new car dealers. Partially offsetting this decline was increased sales at gasoline stations, which rose for the second month, mainly reflecting higher prices at the pump.

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