A report showing US retail sales in February far exceeded forecasts supported Wall Street, underpinning expectations the American economic recovery is here to stay with help from the Federal Reserve.

Retail sales jumped 1.1 per cent last month, following a revised 0.2 per cent rise in January. It was the biggest climb since September and far better than the 0.5 per cent increase economists polled by Bloomberg and Reuters had expected.

"The economy in February is looking solid. None of this, however, is likely to cause the Fed to change tack in the near term," John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York, told Reuters.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.07 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 0.16 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.12 per cent.


Shares of retailers including Best Buy, Staples and Kohl's led the gain in the Morgan Stanley retail index, last up 4 per cent, 3.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively.

"All the economic data is incrementally positive," Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management LLC, told Bloomberg News. "Even if we do have a pause in the market or a correction, how deep can that correction be, because I think there's a lot of people, a lot of investors, waiting to get into the market."

Shares of Coach gained, last up 1.1 per cent, after Citigroup raised its rating on the luxury leather goods company's stock to "buy" from "neutral."

Shares of Netflix also strengthened, last up 6.9 per cent, after the video services company announced new social features integrated with Facebook.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index edged nearly 0.1 per cent lower. The UK's FTSE 100 dropped 0.5 per cent, while France's CAC 40 slipped 0.1 per cent. Germany's DAX managed a gain of just under 0.1 per cent.

The economic data for the region continues to indicate weakness. Industrial production in the euro zone dropped 0.4 per cent in January, according to a report from the European Union's statistics office today.

Meanwhile, Italy's borrowing costs rose as the country sold 3.32 billion euros of debt due in December 2015 at an average yield of 2.48 per cent versus 2.30 per cent at the previous offering last month, according to Bloomberg. The continuing political impasse has more than damped enthusiasm for the country's securities.

In contrast, Ireland made a triumphant return to the fixed-income market for the first time since it was bailed out with the sale of 5 billion euros of new 10-year bonds; more than 12 billion euros of bids were made.