UK retail sales rise 3.9% in March

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London, The earlier timing of Easter this year helped retail sales in the UK grow at their fastest rate in nearly a year during March, a leading lobby group said today.

In its monthly survey, the British Retail Consortium revealed that like-for-like sales — those that exclude new office stores and space — rose by 3.9 pct in March from the year before.

That is higher than the 3.3 pct recorded in February and ahead of analysts' expectations for a more modest 3.5 pct increase. The last time retail sales grew by more was in April 2006 when they rose by a mighty 6.8 pct.

Meanwhile, the BRC said total retail sales, which do include new stores and space, were up by 6.2 pct on the previous year, ahead of February's 5.6 pct increase. The March rise was the biggest since last May, when they also rose by 6.2 pct.

The Bank of England has raised interest rates three times since August and many economists foresee another rate hike next month, but most surveys have portrayed a fairly robust retail performance in recent months.

The BRC/KPMG monitor said the strong rise was helped by weak sales last March when like-for-like sales fell an annual 1.4 percent.

"With Easter falling in April (this year), the March results do not represent a high volume month in the context of the year as a whole," said Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG.

"However, they do highlight a continued level of resilience in the market."  
 
The three-month trend rate for like-for-like sales rose to 3.5 percent in March from 3.0 percent in February, the highest since June 2006, while the 12-month moving average hit a four-year high of 3.1 percent.

The survey showed stronger food and drink sales as consumers stocked up early on Easter confectionery while warmer weather boosted clothing and footwear sales.

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