Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Retailers buoyed as sales show sharp rise

Retail sales rebounded by a better-than-expected 2.1% last month as shoppers returned to the high street after a snow-hit start to the year, figures have revealed.

Strong sales of tablet computers helped drive the bounce-back, while department stores also benefited with sales up 10.6% in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The surge in retail sales volumes came after a dire January, when sales plunged after many small shops were forced to shut as snow blanketed much of Britain.

Analysts said the latest figures came as a surprise, given that average earnings growth of 1.2% is well short of inflation at 2.8% and consumer confidence remains low.

Despite the economic difficulties, some companies such as Zara, Sports Direct and Asos have reported strong results recently.

The month-on-month rise was the highest since last April and follows a downwardly revised 0.7% drop in sales between December and January. Sales also saw a sharp rise against a year earlier, up 2.6% in February.But higher prices hit food sales, down 1.2% year-on-year last month, according to the ONS.

Today's figures also showed the continued rise in online shopping, with the average weekly spend via the internet jumping by 10.1% to £540.5m last month.

The sales increase will fuel hopes for the wider economy, which has been left teetering on the brink of an unprecedented triple-dip recession after contracting by 0.3% at the end of last year.

Forecasters at the Office for Budget Responsibility said they expected the UK to narrowly avoid falling back into recession, predicting 0.1% growth this quarter.