Slowdown fears ease as sales rise

THERE WERE fresh signs yesterday that the British economy is back on track as retailers reported rising sales and a survey of the UK financial sector revealed sharp increases in optimism.

The British Retail Consortium said that, like-for-like, sales last month were 3.9 per cent higher than in the period last year, and total sales were up 7.3 per cent. The opening of the giant Bluewater shopping centre in Kent boosted the retail numbers, while good weather helped sales of spring clothes and do-it-yourself products.

But the BRC cautioned that the timing of the Easter weekend - earlier this year than last - may have distorted the figures. Excluding sales in the week before Easter, like-for-like sales were up by just 0.9 per cent.

The Confederation of British Industry said confidence in UK financial institutions improved for the first time in a year after a marked pick- up in business volumes.

The latest CBI/PricewaterhouseCoopers financial services survey found that 38 per cent of firms were more optimistic in March than in December, with 14 per cent more pessimistic, for a net balance of 24 per cent of optimistic firms, compared with a balance of minus 27 per cent in December and minus 54 per cent in September.

Sudhir Junankar, CBI's associate director of economic analysis, said: "Financial service firms have started to shake off their slowdown fears. Confidence seems to be returning following the lows of the second half of last year, which then reflected concern about world financial turmoil and the apparent threat of a UK recession."

Financial services firms reported a pick-up in overall business, with a balance of 32 per cent expecting this growth to continue into the next quarter. Almost all sectors anticipated significant growth, the CBI said, particularly banks and life insurers. General insurers and building societies were among the few groups expecting volumes to decline.

Employment rose at its fastest rate since the fourth quarter of 1997. However, most companies expected to cut jobs in the next three months.

Mr Junankar said that financial services profitability rose as expected in the first quarter, but the squeeze on margins at banks is expected to persist through the next three months. The profits outlook for building societies was said to be brighter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada