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Retail sales slide in September as higher prices dampen spending on food and petrol

Anna Isaac
Shoppers bought less in September, compared to August, but overall the picture is of slow growth in retail  - PA

Shoppers reined in their purchasing during September, almost wiping out the surprisingly strong growth in sales seen in August.

Retail sales dropped by 0.8pc between the two months, a steeper fall than the slight downward shift of 0.1pc that economists had expected.

It was also a sharp drop on August's figure of 1pc growth, according the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  

The pound fell as the figures were released, dipping 0.3pc against the dollar to $1.3148. 

While the monthly retail sales figures betrayed a volatile picture of consumer behaviour, the trend over the past three months was steadier, with 0.6pc growth in sales for the quarter to the end of September.

Compared with the previous year, overall sales were up by 1.2pc, a rise that was entirely driven by non-food sales such as clothing or other household items.

Price rises in food and petrol seemed to have put people off spending in these essential areas. Both saw a fall year-on-year of 0.5pc and 0.2pc respectively.  

Scotiabank's head of European fixed income strategy, Alan Clarke, said that the sales painted a picture of a weak retail sector and marked a disappointing end to the third quarter of the year. Growth over the past three months of 0.6pc was a significant fall on the 1.1pc rise seen in the second quarter of the year, he noted. 

"Not great for the prospects for October 25, when we get that first estimate of third quarter GDP. To be fair, sales fell by 1.3pc on the quarter during the first three months of the year and overall GDP was still up by 0.2pc. So it could have been worse," he added.

Ruth Gregory, UK economist for Capital Economics, argued that by taking a longer view on the quarter, rather than the monthly figures, the ONS data showed a small re-acceleration of growth in the economy, increasing the likelihood of a November hike in interest rates. 

"Our seasonally adjusted measure of car registrations suggests that car purchases – which were responsible for a large part of the weakness in the second quarter – rebounded in the third. And the surveys suggest that spending off the high street has remained robust. As a result, total household spending growth still probably registered a small pick-up in the third quarter," she said.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist, at Pantheon Economics, spotted a notable drop-off in sales of electronic goods. 

The significant fall of 14pc in electronics purchases drove a 0.2 percentage point fall in the overall retail sales figures for the year according to Mr Tombs, and the slump was due to people not upgrading iPhones.