April weather boosts retail sales

A winning combination of the royal wedding and warm weather triggered a bigger-than-expected surge in retail sales last month, official figures revealed today.

Retail sales volumes rose 1.1% month-on-month in April, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, as the extra bank holiday saw the biggest rise in food store sales in nearly three years.



It was the best April for retail sales volumes growth since 2002, the ONS added.



The warmest April on record also led to a 3.2% rise in clothing and footwear sales, the highest rise since June 2009, while gardening and sports sales also benefited from the sunshine, the ONS said.



Economists were expecting an increase in retail sales of up to 1%, but warned the spike is likely to be temporary as underlying problems remain on the high street.



Retail sales saw a modest bounceback to growth in March after a shock decline in February as reports from major retailers showed an industry struggling to cope with a squeeze on consumer spending.



Mothercare yesterday said it would shut 110 stores after posting a drop in UK profits, following the likes of entertainment group HMV, sportswear firm JJB and electrical retailers Comet and Dixons.



But the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, coupled with sunshine and warm temperatures throughout the month, offered the sector some respite.



Food store sales were 1.4% higher than a year ago and 2.2% higher than March, the highest rise since May 2008, the ONS said.



Other surveys for April, including a report from the British Retail Consortium, suggested barbecue food featured heavily on customer receipts, but the ONS could not offer a breakdown on popular items.



Clothing retailers told the ONS that customers were filling their summer wardrobes, while toy sales were driven by outdoor items.



Elsewhere, there was a 1.5% monthly rise in sales volumes at household goods stores, but department stores saw a 0.3% decline.



Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, warned the jump in sales volumes should not be taken as a sign that "the consumer is roaring back to life".



He said: "What it suggests is that pressurised consumers need a particularly favourable set of circumstances to part with their cash. And we suspect that consumers are likely to keep a tight grip on their purse strings over the coming months."

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