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Sales of new cars and trucks rise 4 percent

DETROIT — New car and truck sales were up 4 percent in February as rising home construction and cheap financing kept the US auto recovery on track. While the pace of growth is slowing, industry analysts expect more gains in the coming months.

Car buyers have already shrugged off higher Social Security taxes, which cut their take-home pay in January. Gas prices — which rose 36 cents to $3.78 per gallon in February — didn’t change their habits. And they ignored the debate over automatic spending cuts due to take effect Friday.

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February sales hit an annualized rate of 15.4 million cars and trucks.

That’s still short of the recent peak of close to 17 million in 2005, but it’s quite healthy compared with the anemic 10.4 million recorded during the recession in 2009.

The industry isn’t likely to see the double-digit monthly gains it saw last year, when Japanese automakers came roaring back after the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

Instead, auto companies are settling in for a period of slower but sustained growth.

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