Retailers feel chill winds of arctic conditions

FOR retailers, it never rains – it snows and snows and snows. The industry had been hoping that the latest blast of freezing weather would hold off until after Christmas. Instead, the snow that blanketed London in the small hours of Saturday morning thwarted one of the biggest days on the retail calendar. Persistent sub-zero conditions means the impacted snow and ice is going nowhere.

Many shops had been hoping that consumers would bring forward purchases of big-ticket items ahead of the VAT rise, which increases from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent in January. But most punters aren’t even venturing on to the High Street, let alone arranging delivery of bulky goods like fridges, washing machines or TVs.

Even those customers that do brave a shopping spree will find less stock. Supply chains – which are still suffering from the bout of snow in early December – have been massively affected; hundreds of product lines are stuck in container ports.

It isn’t just retailers which suffer: a quick stroll around the Square Mile proves that consumer-facing businesses of every hue, from sandwich shops and gourmet restaurants to bars and hotels, are feeling the arctic conditions. Shelves are empty, shop floors even emptier.

The list of other companies that are likely to be affected is seemingly endless. British Airways lost almost two per cent yesterday on fears that it’s bottom line – already squeezed by strikes – will be further hit by the arctic conditions. Eurostar, one of the biggest losers from last year’s freezing conditions, will also be hurt.

Of course there are always winners: utilities helped push the FTSE 100 higher yesterday, because if there’s one thing people are using it’s energy. Purveyors of woolly jumpers should do well too.