UK High Street sales witnessed a fall touching their sharpest annual rate for five months in January, revealed a survey initiated by the CBI business group. The figures belied economists' expectations for an overall improvement and also defying stores' own predictions of sales being broadly unchanged on a year earlier.
Some 28% of retailers claimed sales had risen in the past year, while 36% quoted it had squeezed. The resulting balance of -8% was worse than forecast.
The harsh winter weather and a rise in VAT made shoppers to relax in their cosy beds preventing them from spending on the high street in January, triggering sales to fall at their fastest pace since last summer.
However, the weaker-than-expected growth of 0.1% in the fourth quarter of last year has triggered concerns about the momentum of the UK's recovery.
Andy Clarke, Chief Operating Officer of Asda and chairman of the CBI distributive trades panel carrying out the survey, said, "2010 has opened on a weak footing, especially compared to the tail-end growth of 2009, but the picture should stabilize in February".
However, grocers and footwear and leather retailers were the only sectors to witness a strong annual sales growth, while sectors linked to the housing market suffered a reversal of fortune.