CSO figures show February retail sales continue downward trend


CORE RETAIL sales fell slightly in February on the previous month, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Figures published yesterday suggest the gradual trend decline in sales, in evidence since the second quarter of last year, continued into 2011. However, they do not suggest that the measures contained in budget 2011 have had a marked impact on consumer behaviour.

Bad weather in December led to a sharp dip in core retail sales in that month, but pent-up demand caused a rebound in retail activity in January. In February, the downward trend reasserted itself.

When adjusted for seasonal factors, the core measure of retail sales, which excludes the volatile motor sector, fell by 0.3 in February compared to January in volume terms. The decline by value was slightly larger, at 0.8 per cent.

The motor sector performed very strongly in February, outgrowing all other retail sectors.

By volume, motor trades were up 5 per cent on the month. Reflecting higher average prices, the value of motor trades rose by 7.1 per cent. The sector continues to benefit from a Government-funded scrappage scheme which has boosted sales.

The strength of the sector dragged total retail sales into positive territory in February.

Total retail sales volumes, which includes motor trades, grew by 3.2 month on month. The was the largest monthly rise in a year. By value, total retail sales grew by 1 per cent month on month, the largest increase in 11 months.

The CSO provides figures for 12 specific retail sectors as well as the motor trade. In February, eight of those registered monthly declines in sales, three recorded increases and one was broad stable.

National Irish Bank’s chief economist Dr Ronnie O’Toole said sales remained “very subdued”, with retail sales now back to levels last seen in late 2005.

The return of inflation was only serving to increase the pressure on households, he added, although retail inflation here remained subdued compared to other European countries.

“Rising interest rates will also sour sentiment,” he said.

“The first rate increase is expected to be announced at the ECB’s next meeting on Thursday next week, despite the uncertainty caused by the tragic events in Japan. “The ECB will continue to tighten monetary policy gradually over the coming 12 months in order to keep a lid on rising European inflation.”