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Retail sales up despite fears of slowdown

UK retail sales volumes held steady in March, confounding expectations that growth would slow.

The latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey from the CBI shows that retail sales volumes have been stable and businesses expect volumes to accelerate next month. Meanwhile, orders placed on suppliers also exceeded expectations of a fall in March and reported moderate growth over the year. Next month, the CBI survey suggests that orders will grow at the same rate.

The volume of internet sales held steady in the year to March and growth is set to pick up slightly in April. Meanwhile, grocers reported growth to be stable in the year to March, the motor trade saw sales volumes rise strongly and the clothing sector also saw increased sales for a second consecutive month.

However, wholesaling reported slower sales volumes growth in the year to March.

The CBI's key findings include:

  • Retailers reported a balance for the volume of sales for this month of +7, with 31% saying they were up and 24% indicating they were down;
  • 31% of retailers expect sales volumes to increase in the month to April, with 14% expecting them to decrease, giving a balance of +17;
  • Most sub-sectors saw steady growth in sales volumes, strong performances were reported in clothing (+50) and recreational goods (+84);
  • Grocers reported growth to be stable in the year to March, recording a balance of +8, up on the reported +5 in February;
  • Volumes of internet sales in the retail sector remained steady (+27), with expectations that they will rise in the month to April (+38).

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Director of Economics, said: 

"It's encouraging to see that sales are holding up and expectations have picked up further. Retailers still face challenging global conditions but will welcome the Chancellor's Budget reforms to business rates, making it easier for them to operate on the high street."

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