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3 charts reveal the economy is finally awaking from hibernation

At first glance, it would be hard to spot any data right now that supports the wildly upbeat growth forecasts put forth by Wall Street for the first half of 2021.

This week alone brought several lackluster economic reports, for instance. February retail sales plunged 3%, far worse than the 7.6% increase in January. Housing starts and permits for February fell 10.3% and 10.8%, respectively. Industrial production dropped 2.2% last month, snapping back four straight monthly gains.

Pros say the sluggish February performance for the economy should be taken with a grain of salt as winter storms in Texas hurt output. Plus, the data doesn't reflect the latest round of stimulus checks that have begun to hit bank accounts this week.

"I really wouldn't worry about the February data by any means," Bank of America chief U.S. economist Michelle Meyer told Yahoo Finance Live. "I think as we look into March, we are going to have pretty exceptional numbers on the economy."

Meyer is likely right on the mark.

And some off-the-beaten path real-time data tracked by Wall Street pros such as Meyer suggest as much.

Spending on plastic stays elevated...pre-stimulus checks.

Consumers appear to be clutching their spending and debit cards.
Consumers appear to be clutching their spending and debit cards.

Despite taking a bit of a hit during the weather-impacted February, spending on Bank of America cards has climbed to a new level judging by the chart above from Meyer's team.

The pickup in spending is consistent with what the CEOs of retailers Abercrombie & Fitch and Kontoor Brands have told Yahoo Finance this month.

Airline terminals awaken

People are beginning to travel again likely after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
People are beginning to travel again likely after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

While the closely watched broader economic data has been a recent letdown, it's apparent people are beginning to travel again (likely post COVID-19 vaccine) as seen by J.P. Morgan's chart above.

That view is backed up by first guidance raises this week from airlines JetBlue and Southwest.

"I think we are through the worst of it [for airlines] at this point," Cowen airline analyst Helane Becker told Yahoo Finance Live. "I think as more vaccines get into people's arms they feel more comfortable traveling. We are definitely seeing that. I really think that's what's going on here."

Restaurants finally get some diners

Restaurants finally get some diners.
Restaurants finally get some diners.

Unlike the airlines, no major restaurant chain has come out this month and raised first quarter guidance. But that could soon change if J.P. Morgan's restaurant booking data (seen above) is any indication. The trend improvement likely reflects people getting vaccinated and loosening restrictions on dine-in service.

And savvy investors appear to understand that potential as restaurant stocks have been top performers over the past month.

Dine Brands (owner of Applebee's and iHOP) shares are up 18% in a month, Olive Garden owner Darden's stock is up 12% and McDonald's has gained 5%.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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