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High street sales grow at fastest pace in more than a year

Published 25/11/2016

The colder weather prompted shoppers to stock up on winter clothes
The colder weather prompted shoppers to stock up on winter clothes

High street sales grew at their fastest pace in more than a year in the 12 months to November, as colder weather prompted shoppers to stock up on winter clothes.

The CBI's distributive trades survey showed that sales volumes were "well above average" for this time of year, and are expected to rise at a similar pace next month.

It found that 42% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in November compared with a year ago, with 16% reporting a drop, giving a balance of +26%, which was the highest level since September 2015.

Expectations had been for a balance of +21%, the CBI said.

It comes amid growth in clothing sales volumes at a balance of +95% and hardware and DIY sales at a balance of +62%.

Internet sales growth was also higher than average at a balance of +51% compared with +37% in October.

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said: "It's great to see retailers reporting such a buoyant month for sales. With the later onset of cold weather, shoppers stocking up their winter wardrobe has helped to boost high street sales.

"While we expect to see decent growth in the near term, retailers are keeping a close eye on price rises coming down the track and the impact on consumer spending."

UK firms are widely expected to pass on rising import costs to consumers following the collapse of the pound which has fallen 17% against the dollar since the EU referendum.

Inflation and slowing wage growth are both expected to knock household spending in the months ahead.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: "The strength in retail sales also might reflect consumers making big purchases before imported goods prices leap in 2017.

"Inflation expectations have picked up steadily over the last six months. If so, then the slowdown in retail sales growth early next year will be particularly acute."

The CBI said average selling prices rose "modestly" and in line with expectations, and are expected to increase at a similar pace next quarter.

The survey - which polled 126 firms, of which 61 were retailers - found that 39% expect sales volumes to rise, with 16% forecasting a fall, resulting in a balance of +23%.

The CBI said that investment intentions for the year were "marginally positive" but weaker than last quarter.

ONS figures showed that business investment held up in the three months to September, rising 0.9%.

However, Mr Tombs warned against reading too far into the CBI's latest data.

"The survey was only conducted up until November 14, so it excludes the week which includes Black Friday, which is now the most important week of the year for retailers.

"It therefore would be wise to await surveys from the BRC, BDO and Visa, which cover the entire month, before forming strong expectations for the official data."

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