High street gloom magnified as UK retail sales numbers fall

Some are pointing the blame at the ever increasing Black Friday sales.

Article updated: 18 January 2019 12:00pm Author: Helal Miah

  • UK retail sales fell 0.9% from November to December with Black Friday bearing the brunt of the blame.
  • All categories of retail, except for food and fuel, declined.
  • Consumer confidence continues to decline as Brexit uncertainty lingers, but with a no-deal exit looking more unlikely and real incomes rising, the retail environment may look better from the spring onwards.

The problems on our high street have been officially recognised in the latest set of UK retail sales numbers with sales in December falling by 0.9% compared to November, worse than the expected 0.8%. Furthermore, the prior month’s figures were also revised down. All categories of retail sales except food and fuel stores experienced a decline. For many economists this will be a further reflection of the state of consumer confidence. Although others will point out that December’s figures were poor because seasonal sales were pulled earlier into the November Black Friday sales.

Volumes at General merchandise stores fell back the most and this somewhat mirrors what we have seen from the latest trading updates from major listed retailers. The Supermarkets have on the whole reported better numbers than general merchandise retailers. This latest set of numbers will support the view that the economy slowed in the final three months of 2018. However, some economists are taking a positive slant from here since the retail caution can largely be blamed on the Brexit uncertainty. With it looking more unlikely that a no-deal exit will be the outcome and the latest set of inflation and wage growth numbers showing real incomes rising, the retail environment could begin to see moderately better prospects from the spring onwards.

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Helal Miah portrait photo
Helal Miah

Investment Research Analyst

After graduating with an economics degree from University College London, Helal started his career within private banking at Smith & Williamson Investment Management and later held analyst and fund manager roles with the Industrial Bank of Japan, Schroders and Mitsubishi Corporation. He is a chartered fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment. 

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