High street sales bounce back


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The Independent Online

There was some welcome cheer for the high street today as figures revealed a bounce back in sales after last month's Olympics disappointment.

The latest CBI survey, covering the first two weeks of September, showed 33% of retailers saw sales rise year-on-year against 27% reporting that sales declined - giving a balance of 6%.

The result marks a turnaround on the minus 3% result last month when London 2012 failed to deliver the feel-good factor retailers had hoped for.

Britain's shops expect the sales revival to continue into the autumn, with a balance of 15% expecting sales to grow year-on-year in October.

It is thought consumers are being given a spending boost from falling inflation, which has dropped from a peak of 5.2% in September last year to 2.5% last month.

But the CBI warned that while today's figures were encouraging, the outlook for household spending was unclear.

Judith McKenna, chairwoman of the CBI distributive trades panel and Asda chief operating officer, said: "While the squeeze on family budgets may have eased in the short term thanks to the fall in inflation, ongoing economic fragility, reflecting uncertainty around the international outlook, could affect household spending later in the year."

Experts said the modest September sales increase fuelled hopes that the UK will pull out of its double-dip recession in the third quarter.

But Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said consumer spending may be kept in check by rising petrol prices, utility bills and fears of a hike in food inflation.

Today's survey showed that grocers enjoyed the biggest year-on-year rise in sales this month, with a positive balance of 55%, and chemists enjoyed their first rise in sales since July 2010.

The better September sales performance comes as a much-needed fillip after a poor Olympics for shops.

Official figures last week showed online and mail order sales saw their worst performance in nearly five years during August - down 6.7% - as consumers chose to watch the Games on television rather than shop on the internet.

Today's CBI data also confirmed how tough conditions are on the high street as retailers said that, for the fifth month in a row, sales were significantly below average for the time of year.