Food sales fall

The latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that retail sales rose by 0.4 per cent on the previous month in February, but sales at food stores had the biggest fall since December 2016.

According to the ONS, the unusually warm weather in February contributed to the rise in retail sales, particularly in garden centres and on sporting equipment. At the same time, the spend in food stores fell by 1.2 per cent.

However, this decline was offset by growth in all other retail sectors, particularly in fuel and online shopping, which contributed to an overall “bounce back” in retail sales, which had annual growth of four per cent in the year to February.

Meanwhile, labour market data, inflation and public sector borrowing have all been stronger than expected, and economists predict that the economic growth for the third quarter is likely to be around 0.3 per cent rather than the stagnation that had been forecast earlier this month.

However, at the most recent Bank of England meeting, analysts suggested that indicators may be less reliable at the moment because some businesses and individuals are stockpiling supplies as there is uncertainty about the outcomes of Brexit.

Brexit uncertainty has caused researchers of one important quarterly report to revise its expectations of GDP growth to 1.2 per cent for 2019, down from 1.6 per cent in December, marking the lowest rate of growth since 2008-09.

The report cites the lack of clarity around Brexit, disappointing data in the Eurozone, a slowdown in China and waning stimulus in the US as factors contributing to a “challenging environment”.

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