Retail sales down again

Retail sales unexpectedly fell for a second month in a row in September, driven lower by weak clothing and fuel sales, official figures showed.

The Office for National Statistics said sales volumes including automotive fuel fell 0.2 per cent last month after a downwardly revised drop of 0.7 per cent in August. Analysts had forecast a rise of 0.4 per cent last month.

On the year, sales were 0.5 per cent higher, well below forecasts for a reading of one per cent annual growth.

Excluding fuel, retail sales were unchanged on the month and 1.8 per cent higher than in September last year.

The figures, which show the longest sustained fall in sales since the turn of the year, are likely to reinforce the view that Britain's economic recovery has peaked and support broad evidence of weakening consumer activity.

Some economists argue that the Bank of England will have to do more to stimulate growth as the government reduces a record budget deficit through large public spending cuts and tax rises, including a hike in VAT sales tax to 20 per cent next year.

The ONS said textile, clothing and footwear sales fell 0.8 per cent on the month and predominantly automotive fuel sales were down 2.3 per cent.

There were muted rises in food stores and household goods stores sales.

Howard Archer of Global Insight said: "The second successive fall in retail sales in September is surprising and particularly worrying given the importance of consumer spending to the economy.

"Indeed, it can only fuel fears that the recovery is faltering markedly and it increases pressure on the Bank of England to revive Quantitative Easing in addition to keeping interest rates down at 0.5 per cent for an extended period.