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Retail Sales Enjoy Positive Bounce-back In April

The UK retail sector has had a tricky year amid high inflation and concerns about the wider direction of the economy, but April produced some positive figures.

Retail Sales data published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that sales volumes rose by an estimated 0.5 per cent in April, recapturing some of the lost ground from March, which had seen a 1.2 per cent decline.

Moreover, the three months to April saw sales volumes increase by 0.8 per cent, the highest three-month increase since August 2021.

Non-food sales were among the biggest winners, up one per cent in April after a 1.8 per cent drop in March, attributed mainly to that month’s poor weather.

Food store sales volumes also rose, however, by 0.7 per cent in contrast with a drop of 0.8 per cent in March, although they remained 2.7 per cent below the level of the last pre-pandemic month (February 2020).

Stores performed better than the non-store retail sector, which saw volumes increase by only 0.2 per cent, while automotive fuel sales were actually down by 2.2 per cent.

The last figure came despite a drop in prices at the pump, which contrasts with the general picture of persistent inflation. 

Indeed, while the exit from the 12-month equation of the energy shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine saw overall Consumer Prices Index inflation drop from 10.1 per cent in March to 8.7 per cent in April, food prices are still rising faster than that.

According to the latest ONS figures, food and beverage inflation was 19.1 per cent in April, just 0.1 per cent down on March. 

While higher energy costs have affected food production costs, the situation is also the result of some poor harvests, a point made by Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey in his recent speech on inflation at the British Chamber of Commerce annual conference.

However, he did add that food price inflation should start to ease later this year.

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