UK retail sales grow at fastest pace since September 2015

Retail sales growth accelerated in the year to April, with volumes rising faster than expected, according to new data.

More than half (59%) of retailers responding to the CBI Distributive Trades Survey said that sales volumes were up in April on a year ago, whilst 21% said they were down, giving a balance of +38%.

This outperformed expectations (+16%), and was the highest balance since September 2015 (+49%).

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The figures contradict the Office of National Statistics’ gloomy data released last week, which indicated the retail sector had recorded its biggest fall in sales for seven years in the three months to March.

The ONS said that on a three-month basis from January to March sales dropped 1.4%.

Nonetheless, CBI expects growth in sales volumes to slow in the year to May and sales are tipped to be broadly average for the time of year, with orders expected to be largely unchanged.

The CBI survey showed that 37% of respondents expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 21% expecting a decrease, giving a balance of +16%.

Internet sales volumes continued to expand at a healthy pace (+48%) in March, with growth broadly in line with the long-run average.

CBI principal economist Ben Jones said: “Retail sales held up better than expected, especially considering that the Survey did not cover the Easter period. The warm weather in early April might go some way to explaining the uptick, with sales by clothing shops and grocers driving overall growth.

“However, retailers are still cautious over the outlook, expecting slower growth over the year to May, as higher inflation eats into household spending. With price competition remaining fierce and rising costs squeezing margins, retailers face mounting pressures in the months ahead.”

Photo credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images.

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