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Retail sales rise by 2.3% in April as good weather helps stores

Retail sales have outstripped expectations to rise by 2.3% in April compared with the month before, thought to be in part due to good weather.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales were up by 4% compared with April last year, exceeding forecasts of 1% monthly growth and 2% year-on-year growth.

It said: " Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests that good weather contributed to growth."

However on a rolling three-month basis, which partially removes single month fluctuations, sales also picked up slightly.

The ONS said: "The underlying pattern, as measured by the three month on three month estimate, showed a slight increase in April 2017 following a short period of contraction, increasing by 0.3%."

Average prices slowed slightly in April, falling from 3.3% in March to 3.1%.

The pound jumped on the news, rising 0.5% to over 1.30 US dollars.

Against the euro, sterling was 0.7% higher at 1.17 euros.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "G iven yesterday's news that real wages are now falling, today's retail sales data was always going to be closely scrutinised.

"The theory went that squeezed household budgets would likely hit retailers in the pocket too. But in fact the figures beat expectations handsomely, with sales in April 2.3% higher than in March and growing 4% year-on-year.

"April's figures were always expected to be better than March, because of the timing of the Easter holiday, but economists had forecast a smaller rebound of 1%, and much more subdued annual growth of 2%."

The figures are a turnaround from last month, when the ONS reported retail sales recording their biggest fall for seven years in the three months to March as rising living costs ate into household spending.

Sales fell by 1.4% over the three-month period, while also sinking well below expectations to drop by 1.8% on the month to March.

The pound's slump since the Brexit vote has ratcheted up everyday prices as manufacturers pass down soaring costs to consumers and imported goods become more expensive.

Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said: "The later Easter this year, coupled with an improvement in the weather, helped boost footfall in April, which as this data shows was converted into better sales figures.

"Although these factors will certainly have contributed, the scale of the increase has perhaps exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, and this really is a great result for the sector."

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: "Online sales have been particularly strong over the last few months and April is no different; online retail is up 19% from last year and now accounts for 15.6% of all retail spending. Indeed, UK consumers spent £1 billion a week online in April.

"Clearly, the retail industry is still benefiting from strong spending growth after a sustained period of broadly confident consumers that are benefiting from low interest rates and record levels of employment.

"However, the retail environment is increasingly being challenged by inflation, which has risen to its highest level in five years and, at some point, retailers will have to ease the pressure by asking consumers to pay more for goods and services. Whilst the retail industry's resilience may be tested in the short term, there is some way to go before the sector reaches a tipping point."

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