U.K. retail sales grow faster than expected

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London, British retail sales volumes rose twice as fast as expected in March and retailers remained upbeat about future performance, a survey showed on Thursday.

In its latest monthly distributive trades survey, CBI said sales balance came in at +32 in March, up from +19 in February, which is the highest reading since December 2004. The survey also said 52 per cent of retailers reported their sales were higher than in March 2006, while 20 per cent said the sales were lower.Analysts had predicted a reading of +15.

John Longworth, chairman of the distributive trades survey panel and executive director of Asda, said the high street has enjoyed robust growth in recent months and the latest headline balance is the strongest since 2004. He added the driving force behind the better show appears to be the housing market.

Underlying sales, the three-month moving average, also picked up, rising to the highest level since July 2004.Retailers expect sales growth to slow only slightly next month with the balance of expectations coming in at +21.

The CBI said sales of DIY goods and household appliances were particularly strong, probably due to housing market strength.

Economists feel the results of the survey could be another handle for the Bank of England to raise interest rates from the prevailing 5.25 per cent. They feel several factors have already contributed to a possible a quarter-point hike in April itself.

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