Retail spending charged to electronic cards rose 0.8 per cent last month - the fastest pace since August last year.
Core retail spending, which excludes gas stations and car yards, rose 0.7 per cent to be 5 per cent higher than in February 2012. About two-thirds of core retail spending is via plastic cards. It was led by a 1.4 per cent rise in spending on durable items.
Deutsche Bank chief economist Darren Gibbs said that was likely to reflect keen pricing, made possible by the firm exchange rate, and a stronger housing market.
Spending on consumables, including food, rose 0.6 per cent but spending on fuel, hospitality and apparel all declined.
ASB economist Christina Leung said the improvement in retail card spending continued a trend of steady growth.
"Consumer confidence has recovered over the past year, underpinned by stronger housing market activity. Recent business surveys also suggest retailers are more optimistic about demand," she said.
The net migration inflows in recent months were likely to boost consumer spending further.
"Nonetheless, the continued high level of household debt and weakness in the labour market should constrain the extent to which consumer spending recovers," Leung said.
Core retail card spending over the past three months, seasonally adjusted, was up 2 per cent on the preceding three months.
Gibbs sees the outlook for consumer spending this year as one of steady growth, though probably at a slower rate than in recent months, supported by only modest growth in wage and salary incomes.
"It remains to be seen what impact worsening drought conditions have on spending in rural New Zealand as the year progresses."By Brian Fallow Email Brian