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UK April Retail Sales Hit By Wet Weather, BRC Says


Retail sales in the UK declined in April as wet weather damped consumer spending, a survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed Wednesday.

Retail sales values were down 3.3 percent on a like-for-like basis from April 2011, when they were up 5.2 percent, BRC said. On a total basis, sales fell 1 percent, against a 6.9 percent increase last year.

"The wettest April since records began has put a dampener on retailers' fortunes," BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said. Consumer interest in summer fashions and outdoor products was washed away by constant downpours. Sales of clothing and footwear were affected by rainfall and chilly temperatures.

Sales held up better for food retailers but customers reverted to winter eating habits, with joints of meat and soups back on shopping lists, Robertson noted. Still, food sales were below their year-earlier level, when they had benefited from Easter buying.

Online sales of non-food items showed slower growth, though against a relatively strong April 2011. Sales were up 9 percent year-on-year, the weakest since November 2011.

The changing timing of Easter always makes analysis difficult in March and April. This April's comparison is with a very strong April 2011, which included all four days of Easter compared with only two in April 2010.

It would have been difficult for this April to out-perform April 2011 even with favorable weather, but these numbers are still disappointing, Robertson said.

High unemployment and weak economic activity have added to consumer caution. Sales of big-ticket items continued to suffer as consumers remained wary of the prospects of economic recovery.

"Consumers, struggling to balance their household budgets, remain reluctant to spend unless they really have to and the weakening economy is likely to mean people are even more cautious about their finances," Robertson noted. "With any significant improvement in the difficult underlying conditions a long way off, a lift in the public mood would at least give retailers a short-term boost."

Official figures last month showed the U.K. slipped back into recession in the first quarter of 2012 after the gross domestic product contracted 0.2 percent.

Though unemployment rate in the three months to February fell from a 16-year high, a recent study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research showed Monday that unemployment is set to rise over the next five years.

A report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG revealed Wednesday that permanent staff placements in British firms increased in April, but at the slowest pace since January.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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