Retailers boosted following higher than expected sales

The high street earned some respite from a nightmare start to the year, as the CBI reported far stronger than expected sales during the first half of January.

Fears for the retail sector have been mounting in the wake of the collapse of a succession of big names such as HMV, Blockbusters and Jessops while official figures – showing a surprise, 0.3 per cent slide in sales during the crucial, pre-Christmas period – increased the misery.

But the CBI's distributive trades survey for the first fortnight of the new year showed 41 per cent of retailers enjoying higher sales volumes against 24 per cent seeing a fall. The resulting 17 per cent balance was much better than the 10 per cent pencilled in by the City, although prospects for the second half of January look far less certain after heavy snowfall across much of the country.

The CBI said grocers saw a ninth-successive month of year-on-year sales growth, making up for falling volumes and weaker growth elsewhere. Clothing retailers had their worst month since August while sales of big-ticket household goods also continued to fall.

Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI's distributive trades panel and Asda's chief operating officer, said: "Despite mixed news from the high street over the last few weeks, strong sales growth in the grocery sector has added a touch of sparkle to overall retail sales."