The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 1.1 percent last month, the biggest gain since September. Some of the gain reflected higher gas prices, but consumers also bought more cars, clothes and appliances. Department stores had their biggest gains in more than a year.
The government also revised its estimates higher for December and January.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 47 points to 13,006 shortly after 10 a.m. That's a gain of 0.4 percent. Alcoa Inc. is the Dow's leading stock, up 2 percent. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are close behind, rising 1 percent.
A reading of confidence among small business owners also rose in February for the sixth month in a row. The National Federation of Independent Business optimism index reached its highest level in a year, helped by an increase in expected sales.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,378. The Nasdaq composite index gained 19 points, or 0.6 percent, to 3,003. The Nasdaq last broke through the 3,000 mark Feb. 29 but ended the day lower. The last time the index closed above that level was in December 2000.
The Federal Reserve will wrap up its monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon. Economists expect the Fed to repeat its pledge to keep short-term interest rates at a record low until late 2014, at least.
Among companies making big moves:
— Great Wolf Resorts jumped 23 percent to $5.13. Apollo Global Management said it has agreed to buy the indoor water park operator for $5 a share.
— Urban Outfitters plunged 6.1 percent, the worst drop in the S&P 500 index. The retailer reported earnings that fell below what analysts were expecting after it had to mark down prices on women's clothing at its Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters stores.
— Southwest Airlines dropped less than 1 percent after the company said it expects to post a loss in the first quarter because of higher fuel costs. Chief Financial Officer Laura Wright said jet fuel prices have been higher than the airline expected.