Retail sales flat in April after rising for 3 months

grocery sales surge
File Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

British shoppers paused for breath in April after months of strong buying, according to official data that showed continued underlying strength of consumer spending during the Brexit crisis.

Monthly retail sales volumes were flat last month, the Office for National Statistics said.

During the three months to April, sales increased 1.8%, the fastest growth by this measure since August last year.

Consumer spending has been a bright spot for Britain’s economy ahead of Brexit, contrasting with businesses cutting back on investment throughout last year and slower global economic growth.

Britain was originally due to leave the European Union on March 29 but that deadline has been pushed back to Oct. 31 as Prime Minister Theresa May failed to break an impasse in parliament on the terms of Brexit.

May said on Friday she would resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7, paving the way for a new prime minister to try to take Britain out of the EU.

Consumers are gloomy about the outlook for the economy, according to surveys.

But strong job creation and rising pay growth have boosted their spending power, even if wages remain lower than before the financial crisis once adjusted for inflation.

“Retail growth was strong in the three months to April with a record quarter for the online sector, driven mainly by clothing purchases, with warmer weather boosting sales,” ONS statistician Rhian Murphy said.

“Elsewhere, department stores continued to see their sales fall.”

Compared with April 2018, total retail sales were up by 5.2 percent after a 6.7 percent annual rise in March.

Retailers themselves have reported mixed fortunes this month.

Morrisons, Britain’s No. 4 grocer, missed quarterly growth forecasts, blaming political and economic uncertainty and No. 3 player Asda warned of an “increasingly challenging backdrop”. However, discounter B&M said it enjoyed it best ever Easter trading season.