UK high street sales down in April but in line with expectations, reports CBI

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High street sales were slightly down in the year to April, but were in line with expectations for the time of year, the CBI said today (26 April 2012).

The CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey, covering the first two weeks in April, showed 33% of retailers saw an increase in sales volumes on a year ago, while 39% reported a fall.

The resulting balance of -6% marked a slight fall in sales, following little change in the previous two months. However, this was in line with expectations (-4%) and retailers judged sales volumes were consistent for the time of year (0%), said the CBI.

Sales volumes are expected to rise next month, with the expectations balance at its highest (+19%) since February 2011 (+25%).

Firms reported the volume of orders also fell slightly on a year ago (-7%), but they anticipate that orders will grow in May (+6%).

Conditions varied across the retail sub-sectors in April 2012. Furniture and carpets reported a year-on-year increase in volume of sales for the third consecutive month (+72%), while clothing, and footwear and leather, also saw solid growth.

This contrasts with falls in sales elsewhere – particularly grocers, who reported a decline in year-on-year sales (-19%) for the first time since November 2011.

Across retailing, stock levels are being carefully managed. In April they were seen as modest in relation to expected demand (+5%), falling back from last month’s figure.

Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel and Asda chief operating officer, said: “The situation on our high streets remains fragile. Consumers are still holding off from buying bigger ticket items, and opting to spend on smaller ‘treat’ purchases that give them a lift without breaking the budget.

“If as expected, inflation falls further later this year, we may see some growth in retail sales, but as long as high unemployment and sluggish wage growth dampen confidence, spending will remain tight.”

Elsewhere, motor traders saw a fall in their sales volumes (-11%), despite expectations of continued growth (+10%).

While volumes in the wholesaling sector continued to rise on a year ago (+29%), growth slowed for the second month running, and sales are expected to fall in the year to May (-9%).