Shoes and leathergoods strong in August but other UK retail is weak says CBI
Two sets of UK data on Thursday (August 24) made bleak reading for anyone hoping that the months ahead will see a spending bonanza as we approach the Christmas shopping season.
But they also held open a little hope for the future and left it hard to predict how buoyant UK retail will be for the rest of the year.
The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) regular monthly survey said that August retail spending has been weak while the Office for National Statistics released official figures for the latest quarter showing a household spending slowdown.
First that survey. Given that the CBI’s report is the earliest that comes out for any given month, and appears while the month it’s reporting on is still not over, it can also be the most liable to revision.
But for now, the CBI said the monthly retail sales balance dropped to -10 in August from +22 in July. That number was reached as 34% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in August on a year ago, while 44% said they were down, giving the balance of -10%. That’s the lowest in a year and was only beaten by the grim month of July 2016, just after the UK voted to leave the EU.
The reading even came in below the pessimistic predictions of analysts who though we’d see a less drastic slowdown.
The survey was based on information from 117 firms, of which 57 were retailers, and showed that, while the volume of sales fell at the fastest pace since July 2016, orders placed with suppliers also fell considerably year-on-year, which is bad news for future sales.
Overall, the respondents said sales for the time of year were considered to be below seasonal norms to the greatest extent since October 2014.
Yet on the plus side, looking ahead to next month, retailers expect sales volumes to rebound in the year to September, while orders are expected to stabilise.
And despite the thought times in August, the CBI said footwear and leather performed well following strong growth in July too. However, year-on-year internet sales growth overall slowed down, edging further below the long-run average, although growth is expected to pick up next month.
The survey also showed that employment declined in the retail sector in the year to August, at the fastest pace since August 2009, with a similar reduction in headcount expected next month. Retailers expect the business situation to continue to deteriorate over the next three months for the third quarter in a row.
Anna Leach, CBI Head of Economic Intelligence, said: “Despite the warmer weather at the start of the month, retail sales have cooled as higher inflation continues to squeeze consumers’ pockets. Meanwhile, deteriorating sentiment regarding the business situation has combined with falling headcount among retailers.
“Looking ahead, firms do expect sales growth to recover, but the pressures on household budgets are set to persist, given little sign of wages picking up.”
Now what about those ONS figures? The official UK statistics agency said that household spending rose at its slowest rate in two-and-a-half years in the three months to June, hitting just 0.1%.
That made the UK the slowest growing economy in the G7 this year and reflected "a deterioration of the economic position of consumers in the start of 2017".
But were the figures as bad as they seem? The slowdown was impacted by lower spending on transport, with cars sales cited as a key issue. Consumers bought more cars earlier this year before changes to vehicle taxes came into effect.
That unusual distortion means the figures are hard to interpret and it could take a few more months before we get a full picture of what’s happening. It’s still too early to call just where UK retail will be by the end of the year, it seems.
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