Clothing sales drag down UK retail in March

BRITISH retail sales were flat this month compared with a year ago, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) showed yesterday.

The sales balance in the CBI’s monthly distributive trades survey fell to zero in March from a positive score of eight in February. Analysts had forecast a reading of minus 11.

The expected sales balance for April rose to plus 15 from plus nine.

“This month we have seen a glimmer of hope for retailers fade away with the news that six months of sales growth has come to an end,” said Barry Williams, chairman of the CBI panel that draws up the survey.

“All eyes are now on April when retailers expect sales to return to form.”

The CBI said the flat performance was spurred by sliding sales in the clothing and footwear and leather categories. That could be a reflection of cold weather during March.

Official data showed last week that retail sales volumes jumped by 2.1 per cent in February – the biggest monthly rise since March last year – and were 2.6 per cent higher on the year.

Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight said the survey was “a dose of realism over the prospects for consumer spending, after hopes had been lifted by a 2.1 per cent month-on-month jump in retail sales volumes in February.”

But he added that retailers remained upbeat, with a balance of plus 15 per cent expecting sales to be up year-on-year in April.