UK retail sales post biggest quarterly fall since 2010

March retail sales

Retail sales volumes contracted 1.4 per cent in the first quarter following a 0.8 per cent rise in the last three months of 2016, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

Analysts had expected March's reading to drop by only 0.2%.

Year-on-year, retail sales growth slowed to 1.7 per cent in March from 3.7 per cent in February, compared with forecasts of 3.4 per cent growth.

With consumers starting to feel the bite of inflation, it's clear that retailers are going to have to work even harder to drive sales, value and engagement.

Clothing stores saw an 11.6 per cent drop in sales revenue, up to 12.9 per when inflation is taken into account. The British Retail Consortium's sales index last week fell by its greatest amount for six years in Q1 as spending on the High St dipped markedly and these numbers are the first quarterly fall for four years.

Investing.com offers an extensive set of professional tools for the financial markets. They shrank by 1.8 percent, after a 1.7 percent increase in February.

"This is the first time we've seen a quarterly decline since 2013, and it seems to be a outcome of price increases across a whole range of sectors", ONS senior statistician Kate Davies said.

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But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak.

The ONS figures, she said, are likely to overstate the weakness in overall household spending growth in the first quarter, of which retail sales only makes up a third, with spending off the high street seeming to have held up rather better.

'Worryingly for United Kingdom growth prospects, the fundamentals for consumers look highly likely to see further deterioration over the coming months as rising inflation eats further into purchasing power with the squeeze reinforced by muted earnings growth, ' he added.

'The recent period of strong consumer spending growth also relied on households running down their saving and increasing borrowing.

"This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the United Kingdom economy has begun", said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC in London. It said the largest decreases were among stores selling household goods and fuel - at 3.3% and 3.1% respectively.

The biggest contribution came from petrol stations, where average prices rose by 16.4% year-on-year. Inflation stood at 2.3% in March, with food and drink the biggest contributor to price rises.

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