LONDON — UK retail sales grew strongly in April, bouncing back from a horrible few months, according to the latest Retail Sales Monitor from the British Retail Consortium released on Tuesday.
Sales increased by 5.6% from the same period in 2016 on a like-for-like basis, the BRC survey — compiled in conjunction with professional services giant KPMG — showed. In total, sales jumped 6.3% from the same period last year.
By contrast, in March, the BRC’s figures showed retail sales dropping 1.0% from the previous March.
Retail sales are keenly watched as they make up a substantial portion of Britain’s overall consumer spending — an area of the economy which has been the biggest driver of the UK’s strong growth in recent years.
Consumer spending has started to drop in the 10 months since Britain voted for Brexit, with average Brits feeling the squeeze from the impacts of rising inflation, which has pushed up prices and lowered spending power.
A bounce back in retail sales could be interpreted as a positive sign for the economy. However, much of the rise is down to the late timing of Easter in 2017. People tend to spend more in shops around holidays like Easter and Christmas, so the months they fall in tend to see strong sales figures.
“As expected, the Easter holidays provided the welcome boost to retail sales, which goes some way to making up for the disappointing start to the year,” Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive said in a statement alongside the data.
“That said, the positive distortion from the timing of Easter was largely responsible for the month’s growth and looking to the longer-term signs of a slowdown, the outlook isn’t as rosy.”
While Easter did boost sales significantly, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, argues that there is more to the figures than just the Easter break.
“April’s BRC figures are very strong, even after accounting for the boost to the year-over-year growth rate from the later timing of Easter this year compared to last,” Tombs said in an email on Tuesday morning.
“Indeed, like-for-like sales grew at the fastest rate for 11 years, despite there being five other occasions during that period when Easter occurred in the latest month but didn’t in the same month a year ago.”
Better than expected retail sales come in the week after a trio of highly respected surveys from IHS Markit also beat expectations, and suggested that the British economy should bounce back in the second quarter of the year after a disappointing Q1.