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UK retail sales increase for the fourth consecutive month — CBI

UK independent employers’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), announced on Tuesday that UK retail sales continued to grow in the year to March, according to figures from the most recent CBI monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

Although sales growth was weaker than expected last month, the CBI survey of 106 firms indicated that retail sales have grown year-on-year for the fourth consecutive month. Sales figures are expected to increase again in the year to April with a balance of +36%, which will bring the growth rate back into line with February, the strongest since the onset of the financial crisis.

According to the survey, 36% of respondents said sales volumes were up compared to a year ago, while 23% said sales volumes were lower, resulting in a balance of +13%.

The survey showed that although Grocers’ sales grew solidly at +20%, this was slowest rate in four months, which along with lower sales in non-specialised stores, such as department stores, contributed to overall slower annual growth in March. Clothing sales also grew, with a balance of +27%, but slightly down on February’s balance of +33%. Sales of ‘other’ goods also significantly increased, with a balance of +44%, the fastest pace since December 2010.

Sales volumes for the Internet retail sector continued to rise strongly in the year to March with a balance of +55%, the fastest rate in eleven months. This growth rate remained in line with a long-run average of the series since August 2009.

The CBI monthly Distributive Trades Survey also revealed that 15% of retailers reported that sales volumes were above average for the time of year, however 30% said sales volumes were below average, resulting in the lowest balance since July 2013 of -15%. The number of retailers placing more orders with suppliers increased to 31% compared to a year ago, while 25% of retailers placed fewer orders, giving a lower than expected balance of +6%, which was lower than the previous month’s balance of +16%.

Just over half of wholesalers said their sales volumes were higher compared to a year ago, while 22% reported a fall in sales volumes, resulting in a balance of +29%. The strongest growth was in building materials at +96%, industrial materials at +82% and clothing, textiles & footwear at +65%, which was the highest since August 2010.

In the motor trade, sales volumes increased for 46% of motor traders, while 43% reported lower sales, giving a balance of +3%. This balance was well below an anticipated balance of +63%, however, sales are expected to rise solidly in the year to April.

Barry Williams, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel and Asda chief merchandising officer for Food, commented:

“It’s promising to see a run of positive growth rates on the high street, with sales up on a year ago for the fourth month in a row. We’re hopeful that this will continue, but there are still signs that this needs to be a cautious hope.

“The pace of growth has slowed, likely in part down to the later timing of Mother’s Day and Easter this year – conversely, this is the same reason many retailers are looking forward to more robust growth next month.


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