Retail sales stunted in February, says CBI

In its monthly Distributive Trades Survey, the CBI has found that while shops did shift some stock in February, sales were weaker than expected.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Darn this bad weather: the ongoing cold snap is keeping shoppers indoors. While 37% of retailers saw an increase in their volume of sales in the year to February, 29% reported a reduction, leaving a net balance of just +8% in February. That’s down from +17% in January.

Analysts had been hoping for a more upbeat net balance of +16%. Alas, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it uptick in retail sales is the weakest since September, proving that the high street is still in dire straits.

Still it could be worse. Even these meagre signs of growth give economists hope that the UK could still dodge the triple dip recession (just who are all these optimistic analysts?). However, it’s fairly certain that consumers are unlikely to step up their spending to any significant degree while inflation runs high, pay growth remains weak and job worries proliferate.

But retailers haven’t lost all their bounce. Clothing, furniture and carpets retailers all enjoyed a reasonable sales surge in February. Online and mail order firms are having the last laugh, of course – no one has to venture outside into the mud and oomska to purchase goods on the web.

Only grocers saw a marked dip in sales, probably down to the ongoing horse meat shenanigans. Joe Bloggs and his missus have probably resorted to tucking into those old tins of pease pudding languishing at the back of the cupboard rather than risk finding mystery meat in their shop-bought lasagne.

As for the coming months, retailers aren’t expecting miracles. A net balance of +9% for March is better than an out and out deterioration, but this is a world away from the optimistic +27 levels predicted just three months ago.

Barry Williams, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel says: ‘We all know trading is tough, and the bad weather hasn’t exactly been encouraging shoppers to hit the high street lately. But there is a glimmer of hope for retailers with the news that sales are growing, even if at a slower pace than in recent months.’

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