The U.S. government reported a one percent increase in retail sales for January.

Economists watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

According to the Commerce Department, this is the first sales increase in seven months.

But the economy remains troubled, as a separate Labor Department report showed the number of Americans continuing to collect unemployment rose for the fourth week in a row.  The total is now just over 4.8 million, which is a record-high.

The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits declined slightly - by 8000 to a total of 623,000 - last week.  That level is close to a 26-year high. 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.