Retail sales jump 1.8% in March

One good thing has come out of the petrol panic-buying. Retail volumes are up 1.8%, reckons the ONS. The highest rise in more than a year.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Retail sales so far this year have had more ups and downs than a Craftmatic bed at the Bunny Ranch. In January, they were good, then they were revised to bad, February’s were lousy with a 0.8% decline, and now, for March, we’re back in our happy place: retail sales growth of 1.8%. Sales are now 3.3% higher than a year ago. Hurrah!

But if a lesson is to be learned from this rollercoaster economics, it’s that the figures are often skewed by temporary factors. Last month, it was the petrol buying – sales of fuel surged up 4.9% last month, the increased clothing sales and sudden rise in gardening goods that shoved the sales car up the incline. Of course, given the spate of wet weather we’ve had over the last few days, it looks like sales of sun cream and bikinis might subside…

We’re not seeing a consumer spending turnaround at any rate. Easter landed early this year, so many food purchases will have been counted for March – worth remembering when subdued April figures are released. And wage growth is still muted at 1.4%, with inflation at 3.5%. But the March growth has helped to boost the quarterly picture, setting growth for the first three months at 0.8%. It may not look like much, but it’s keeping us out of recession.

What we can surmise from the data is this: what the UK economy really needs is a monthly gaffe by Francis Maude and his ilk, creating a buying sensation with imagined shortages. Let’s start with a sudden dearth of business magazines. Pick up your latest copy of MT on Monday while you still can…

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