Chain stores reported major improvement in February, results that will raise talk of a second month of gains in next Thursday's retail sales report. Rates of sales contraction slowed significantly in the month. Wal-Mart once again led the sector, posting its strongest results since June. Many chains, in comparison to prior months, were effusive in their description of business conditions with some describing traffic as strong. Warm weather late in the month helped apparel retailers. But many department-store chains, especially those on the high-end, report increasing contraction. Consumers are retrenching, putting their money in the bank and shopping at Wal-Mart. Share prices of many chains, including Wal-Mart, rose in reaction to today's results.