...but the high street sees sales rebound

Julian Harris
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RETAIL sales sprang back last month after exceptionally gloomy results in March, the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) said yesterday.

A positive balance of 21 per cent of retailers reported a rise in sales in the first two weeks of April. In March a negative balance, reflecting falling sales, was recorded for the first time in nine months.

Despite the bounce-back, sales on British high streets remain sluggish, with the CBI survey expecting no further growth in sales this month.

“For the third month in a row, retailers considered sales to be unseasonably poor, stocks are running quite high, and orders with suppliers are expected to fall,” said the CBI’s chief economist Ian McCafferty.

A negative balance of -23 per cent of retailers showed that sales for the time of year were poor in April, close to March’s low of -24 per cent. This element of the survey had not been lower since August 2009.

“Admittedly, the later fall of Easter this year makes it hard to take the survey entirely at face value,” said Vicky Redwood of Capital Economics. “But overall it looks like consumers are still reining in their spending in the face of the tight squeeze on their real incomes.”

The underlying trend of sales, shown by the survey’s three month average, has taken a downward turn. In the three months to January a positive balance of 45 per cent of respondents reported growth in sales, compared to a positive balance of 14 per cent in the latest survey.

The balance could fall to just six per cent next month if expectations are realised, the CBI said.

Retailers reported no change in orders placed with suppliers, compared to a year ago. Overall orders are expected to decline next month by a negative balance of around minus four per cent, the CBI explained.