Indeed, the Office for Budget Responsibility is anticipating a minute 0.1% increase in GDP in the first quarter. Any more disappointing economic data towards the end of the month will leave Mervyn King and George Osborne gibbering wrecks. Two quarters of contraction mean just one thing: the dreaded triple dip.
According to the CBI’s Distributive Trades Survey, the net balance of retailers reporting higher sales during the month was equally matched by the number reporting a downturn, contrasting with a net balance of +8% in February and suggesting that March has been the toughest trading month for retailers since last August.
Sales were hampered by the ongoing (and seemingly neverending) cold weather, which has driven everyone off the streets and under their duvets. It also means that sales of seasonal clothing – bikini, anyone? – and things like BBQs are way down for the period.
However, retail sales, and indeed the weather, are expected to improve in April. The number of firms expecting increased sales next month exceeded those anticipating a downturn by 15%, up from +9% in last month's survey. This suggests that there is still some optimism out there, albeit muted.