UK retail sales growth softens as department stores disappoint

Consumer spending has been the biggest driver of British economic growth since Brexit referendum

Stripping out inflation adjustments, growth in retail spending was the weakest in more than three years

Stripping out inflation adjustments, growth in retail spending was the weakest in more than three years

 

British shoppers grew more cautious about their spending in the three months to September despite rising wages, official figures showed on Thursday, raising concerns about the health of the economy in the run-up to Brexit.

Consumer spending has been the biggest driver of British economic growth since June 2016’s referendum to leave the European Union, but there have been increasing signs that this is starting to soften.

Looking at the third quarter as a whole, which strips out monthly volatility, quarterly sales growth held steady at 0.6 per cent while the annual pace of expansion dropped to 3.1 per cent from 3.6 per cent in the second quarter, the weakest since the late 2018.

Stripping out inflation adjustments, growth in retail spending was the weakest in more than three years. Sterling showed little reaction to the data, with markets focused on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson can broker a Brexit deal that is acceptable both to Brussels and Britain’s parliament before the country is due to leave on October 31st.

“September’s retail sales figures were perhaps a bit of a relief given the intense Brexit uncertainty, but were hardly a picture of strength,” economist Ruth Gregory of consultancy Capital Economics said. Monthly retail sales volumes were flat in September and annual sales growth picked up to 3.1 per cent from a weak 2.6 per cent in August, the Office for National Statistics said - slightly less of a recovery than economists had forecast in a Reuters poll.

“Food shops bounced back after a weak few months, but there was yet more bad news for department stores, with sales continuing to fall in September,” ONS statistician Rhian Murphy said. Some retailers said unusually rainy weather had hurt demand too, the ONS added.

Sales in the ‘non-specialised stores’ category - which includes department stores - dropped by an annual 2.0 per cent in the third quarter, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2009 when Britain was mired in recession. – Reuters