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Retail sales flatline in January as retailers brace for ‘tough year’

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter
·2-min read

Retail sales fell flat in January as high street retailers suffered a bruising start to 2019, according to new figures.

The CBI’s monthly distributive trends survey showed that retailers saw sales volumes flatline for the third month in a row.

It said Britain’s high street will brace itself for “another tough year for the sector”, as it predicted sales would remain flat through February.

Sales were “poor for the time of year”, the CBI said, predicting they will remain below seasonal norms for the year to February.

Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said: “Both official data and business surveys are painting a picture of subdued activity for retailers.

“A challenging Christmas has extended into the New Year, with little expectation of any improvement soon.”

Department store sales were particularly good during the month, but were offset by weaker performances by DIY retailers and furniture shops.

The survey data also revealed that orders placed with suppliers fell as retailers maintained high levels of stock.

Stagnating retail sales will add to the uncertainties of the wider economy, ahead of Mark Carney’s final monetary policy committee as governor of the Bank of England on Thursday.

The CBI also called on the Chancellor to stimulate the retail sector by overhauling the current business rates system.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club, said: “It is still early days to see what impact December’s decisive general election result and imminent UK exit from the EU on 31 January with a deal has on consumer behaviour.

“The initial signs are that it has lifted confidence but this – so far at least – has not translated into higher spending.”