High street sales bounce back after sharp fall last month

High street sales are staging a recovery in November after suffering a sharp slowdown last month, overcoming the steepest growth in selling prices in almost a quarter of a century.

Grocers and clothing retailers fuelled stronger sales in November in the CBI’s survey of retail activity, which had recorded sales for October falling at the fastest rate since the height of the recession in 2009. While the study comes before the key Christmas shopping period, the early indications are likely to cheer the industry.

The CBI said 39% of the 128 retailers it polled for the survey reported an increase in sales volumes in November compared with a year ago, while only 13% saw a decline, leaving a rounded balance of +26%. The closing date for the survey was Tuesday 14 November, which was also well before the beginning of the crucial Black Friday discounting period – which is expected to help drive sales further.

British shoppers are expected to spend as much as £10.1bn during the US-inspired week of special offers and promotions, which is nearly 4% higher than last year as more retailers take part.

Still, the CBI survey found the strongest growth in prices since May 1991, with a balance of +75% of retailers seeing higher prices in the year to November and an expectation that they will rise further still. It also found optimism among firms is declining, while retailers are also taking on fewer staff.

Rain Newton-Smith, the chief economist at the CBI, said: “Our high streets are not out of the woods. Ahead of the crucial run-up to Christmas, the weaker pound has pushed up prices and retailers are nervous about business conditions and are trimming their workforces.”

The study comes after the Office for National Statistics found the rate of growth in household consumption expenditure strengthened to 0.6% in the three months to the end of September, including a recovery of car purchases. That helped drive the slightly stronger-than expected growth in the economy of 0.4% in the third quarter, which was confirmed by the ONS on Thursday.

But the situation facing consumers remains highly challenging, which could act as a drag on growth in the future. British households are facing the biggest squeeze on living standards since records began, according to the Resolution Foundation, amid rising inflation due to the pound’s weakness since the Brexit vote.

Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at the Pantheon Macroeconomics consultancy, said: “We strongly doubt that consumers, hit by rapidly rising prices, higher interest rates and slowing employment growth, will be able to keep increasing their overall real spending.”

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