Little change in high street sales

High street sales were slightly down in the year to April, but in line with expectations for the time of year, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

The CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey, covering the first two weeks in April, shows that 33 per cent of retailers see an increase in sales volumes on a year ago, while 39 per cent report a fall. The resulting balance of -6 per cent marks a slight fall in sales, following little change in the previous two months.

Sales volumes are expected to rise next month, with the expectations balance at its highest (+19 per cent) since February 2011 (+25 per cent).

Companies report that the volume of orders also fell slightly on a year ago (-7 per cent), but a balance of +6 per cent anticipate that orders will grow in May.

In April, a balance of +72 per cent of furniture and carpet operators reported a year-on-year increase in volume of sales for the third consecutive month, while clothing, and footwear and leather, also saw solid growth.

This contrasts with falls in sales elsewhere, particularly grocers, with a balance of -19 per cent reporting a decline in year-on-year sales for the first time since November 2011.

Across retailing, stock levels are being carefully managed. In April they were seen as modest in relation to expected demand (+5 per cent), falling back from last month’s figure.

Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel says, ‘The situation on our high streets remains fragile. Consumers are still holding off from buying bigger ticket items, and opting to spend on smaller ‘treat’ purchases that give them a lift without breaking the budget.

‘If as expected, inflation falls further later this year, we may see some growth in retail sales, but as long as high unemployment and sluggish wage growth dampen confidence, spending will remain tight.’