Retail sales increase in February – but economists warn underlying trend is still “weak”

PUBLISHED: 10:45 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:45 22 March 2018

Shoppers in Norwich city centre. The ONS says retail sales rose slightly in February. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Shoppers in Norwich city centre. The ONS says retail sales rose slightly in February. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Retail prices rose at their slowest year-on-year rate in February in more than a year as supermarkets, vehicle fuel and online shopping helped to buoy sales.

But despite an overall 0.8% month-on-month rise in sales, non-food retailers – which includes department stores and clothes shops – suffered a decrease, the Office for National Statistics said.

The three-month figure to February, which smooths out monthly volatility, shows retail sales fell by 0.4% after poor performances in December and January.

The figures show retail prices rose in February by 2.5% year-on-year, the smallest increase since January 2017.

Compared with a year earlier, the ONS said February retail sales were up 1.5% amid expectations of a 1.3% rise.

ONS senior statistician Rhian Murphy said: “Retail sales did grow in February, with increases seen in food, non-store and fuel, but this followed two months of declines in these sectors.

“However, the underlying three-month picture is one of falling sales, mainly due to strong declines across all sectors in December.

“Store prices continue to rise across all store types, but at a lower rate than the previous month due to a slowdown in price growth, though clothing and household goods stores continued to see stronger price rises.”

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the rise in sales was above economists’ expectation of 0.4%.

“But the champagne remains on ice for now. The monthly numbers are always volatile and the underlying trend is still one of weakness,” he said.

“There’s also a risk of further disappointment in March, with the Beast from the East bringing economic disruption and keeping consumers at home.”

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