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Consumer spending on food bolsters July’s retail sales

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Retail sales for July beat market expectations as the figures were helped by strong consumer spending on food and household goods.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that retail sales increased by 0.3% compared with the previous month, due to strong sales in food stores.

All other sectors except food and household goods declined in the month and the ONS said since nearly 40p of every pound is spent in food stores, this helped to offset declines seen elsewhere.

The three month on three month estimate revealed an overall increase of 0.6% and the quantity bought increased 1.3% compared with July 2016. This is the 51st consecutive year-on-year increase in retail sales since April 2013.

Online sales increased year-on-year by 15.1% and by 0.3% on the month, accounting for approximately 16% of all retail spending.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said today’s figures beat forecasts for a smaller 0.2% rise.

He said: “The UK consumer is extraordinarily resilient. Spending has defied expectations of a slowdown since the Brexit referendum, and currently seems to be holding up despite weak wage growth and above-target inflation. This could bode well for economic growth – the UK economy is heavily reliant on the consumer, and economists had expected falling real incomes to eventually translate into weak retail sales.

“If this fails to materialise the economy could see a stronger second half to the year – though there are also growing concerns over the level of household debt, which is fuelling continued consumption in the absence of rising real wages.”

The market reaction to the data was muted, with both sterling and the FTSE little changed.

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