J.C. Penney Co. said Thursday that sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.2 percent in February, surprising industry experts who expected that cautious consumers would lead to a sales decline.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters anticipated sales to slide 1.3 percent.

Same-store sales is a key indicator since it measures growth at existing stores rather than newly opened ones.

J.C. Penney said its total sales in the four-week period ending Feb. 27 rose 1.5 percent to $1.18 billion, from nearly $1.17 billion last year.

The department store operator said shoppers bought up its spring merchandise, and children's items were the top sellers. Sales of home products were the weakest.

The southeast region performed the best, while the northeast region had the softest sales, largely due to the winter storms, the company said.

J.C. Penney runs 1,108 department stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Company shares rose 32 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $29.13.