Retail sales smash expectations

 
Julian Harris
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THE RETAIL sector is returning to a better state of health according to a widely-regarded business survey published yesterday.

Sales in the year to August grew at their fastest rate since November last year, smashing the expectations of economists, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of the 125 firms surveyed by the CBI said that sales volumes were higher than a year earlier, while 22 per cent said that sales were down.

The resulting net balance of plus 27 per cent was far higher than the 10 per cent balance predicted by retailers. Economists had forecast a positive balance of 19 per cent.

“This was the second consecutive quarter of growth and was broad-based across a number of sectors,” the CBI said.

The improvement seems to have boosted shopkeepers’ morale, with respondents banking on September being an equally strong month; a positive balance of 26 per cent has been forecast.

The sector also appears to be helping the UK’s labour market, with employment jumping at the fastest pace since May 2002. A positive balance of 14 per cent of retailers said their headcount is higher than at the same time last year. And a positive balance of nine per cent say it will rise again next month. “Figures draw a successful close to a good summer for the high street,” said Barclays’ Richard Lowe.