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Retail

British Retail Sales Washed Out By Rain In July

By Reuters
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British Retail Sales Washed Out By Rain In July

British retail sales fell more sharply than expected in July as heavy rain put off shoppers who are also feeling the hit from high inflation and 14 back-to-back increases in interest rates.

Official data showed sales volumes last month were 1.2% lower than in June.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast that sales volumes would fall by 0.5% on the month.

Sterling weakened against the U.S. dollar and the euro as investors assessed how much the bigger-than-expected sales drop represented a warning sign of a slowdown in the economy, beyond the weather effect.

Sales Volumes Down

Retail sales volumes were 3.2% lower than a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said. That compared with economists' forecasts for a 2.1% decline.

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"Retail sales fell sharply in July as poor weather impacted most sectors," ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators, Heather Bovill, said.

"It was a particularly bad month for supermarkets as the summer washout combined with the increased cost of living meant sluggish sales for both clothing and food. Department store and household goods sales also dropped significantly."

Online Shopping

Many shoppers went online rather than venture out into the poor weather, with 27.4% of retail sales taking place via the internet, up from 26.0% in June and the highest share since February 2022.

Food stores sales volumes fell by a monthly 2.6% while non-food stores sales volumes fell by 1.7%.

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As well as the unpredictability of Britain's weather, consumers have been hit by high inflation which stood at almost 7% last month, down from a peak of about 11% last October but still the highest among the world's large rich economies.

However, July's data represented only the second time that sales volumes fell on a month-to-month basis so far in 2023, suggesting some resilience in consumer demand.

Analyst Comment

Commenting, Danni Hewson of AJ Bell said, “July’s retail slump follows three positive months for the sector and there is every indication that consumers do still have cash to spend, they’re just choosing where and when to spend it very carefully.

“Slowing retail sales would normally be seen as a sign of consumer stress, but this feels more like a weather related blip and it’s unlikely the Bank of England will give these numbers anything more than a cursory glance when it comes to next month’s interest rate decision.”

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