CBI: retail sales fall in January as shoppers rein in spend

Retail sales fell in the first two weeks of January, according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.

The CBI said 44% of retailers saw sales volumes fall on a year ago, while 22% reported a rise, giving a balance of -22%. This was the lowest since March 2009 (-44%), but was broadly in line with expectations (-18%), it said

Retailers reported sales were disappointing for the time of year (-20%) and orders were also down (-14%), with firms expecting levels to fall again next month (-23%). Stock levels remained constant, but fairly low, in line with recent months (+10). Retailers expect annual sales volumes to continue to fall in February, albeit it at a slower pace than this month (-10%).

There was a mixed picture across the sub-sectors, but with most reporting a fall in sales volumes on a year ago, including hardware and DIY (-80%), durable household goods (-100%) and non-specialised retailers such as department stores (-34%).

Grocers saw a modest increase in sales (+6%), following a much stronger trading period in December (+52%). The non-store category, which includes online and mail-order, performed well (+50%), according to the CBI.

Ian McCafferty, CBI chief economic adviser, said: Shoppers have reined-in spending across the board at the start of the New Year after taking advantage of early discounting last month, which boosted pre-Christmas sales.

“Family budgets are under continuing pressure with inflation still high and wage increases modest.

“Consumers are still holding off particularly from buying big ticket items like washing machines and fridges. Online and mail order sales were the only areas that performed well in January, but growth was still down on last month.”

Among wholesalers, 59% saw sales volumes rise, while 22% reported a fall, giving a rounded balance of +36%, exceeding expectations of -2%. Sales are expected to increase again next month (+24%).

Motor traders saw sales volumes fall for the 13th consecutive month (-9%), and a similar decline is expected next month (-12%).