Sales gain lifts hopes of bumper Christmas

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The Independent Online

Hopes of a bumper Christmas for high street shops are given a boost today by figures showing that retail sales rose in November for the first time in eight months.

Sales from shops open a year ago - known as like-for-like sales - rose at an annual rate of 0.8 per cent, the first and fastest growth since March's 1.2 per cent. Total sales that includes stores opened in the past 12 months rose 4.6 per cent to an eight-month high, the British Retail Consortium said.

It was the first clearly positive news to emerge from the high street for several months and endeda run of downbeat data.

Rumours that the survey would show a rise emerged at the weekend, prompting analysts to warn it would cause the Bank of England to move its finger closer to the interest rate trigger. Howard Archer, at Global Insight, said: "The Bank will be interested to see what happens to consumer spending over the Christmas and new year period, given that consumer spending is key to the growth outlook."

The BRC said colder weather together with widespread promotions and sales had boosted clothing and footwear sales. However, DIY and gardening and furniture were "tough", while homewares were "dull". Kevin Hawkins, the BRC's director general, said: "The lift out of negative territory is encouraging."

Meanwhile, service sector companies raised their prices last month despite a slight slowdown in growth, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply. Cips said its index of services business activity fell to 55.8 from 56.1 in October. That was lower than analysts' forecasts of 56, but well above the 50 mark that divides expansion from contraction.