Hopes of a spring high street revival were boosted yesterday by a surprise jump in spending fuelled by warm weather, the launch of the iPad3 and panic-buying of petrol.
The splurge also raised the chances of the UK staving off a double-dip recession, as a combination of the warmest March since 1957 and a petrol panic which saw fuel sales soar, left retail volumes up 1.8 per cent over the month – the biggest jump for more than a year. The launch of the new iPad helped to boost "other" sales, which includes electronics, up 6.2 per cent.
The figures will calm nerves over next week's first official estimate of growth in the opening quarter of 2012, although the City is pencilling in an anaemic rise of just 0.1 per cent. This leaves the UK averting a technical double-dip, defined by two successive quarters of contraction, by the skin of its teeth.
The British Chambers of Commerce's chief economist, David Kern, said: "This reinforces hopes that GDP will show positive growth in the first quarter."
The heatwave sent clothing sales up 2.3 per cent over the month as shoppers rushed for summer togs. The sales were much stronger than City pundits were expecting, leaving the chances of more money-printing by the Bank of England next month even slimmer.
However, experts warned the sales boost may be shortlived.
David Page, Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets UK economist, said: "We expect that some of this strength from the one-offs may come out again in April, so this is not a sign of a turning point in retail activity."