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More high street gloom as sales fall in December

Written by: Danielle Levy
Retail sales slumped in December, as Brexit uncertainty took its toll on consumer confidence.

UK retail sales fell 0.9% between November and December and were 0.2% lower over the three months to December 2018.

UK consumer confidence has continued to decline, which is understandable at a time when the UK’s exit path from the European Union remains uncertain.

All categories of retail, except for food and fuel, fell during December.

Through the course of 2018, the quantity bought by consumers increased by 2.7%. However, this compares to a peak of 4.7% in 2016.

There appears to be further evidence of the so-called ‘death of the high street’. In December 2018, online retailing accounted for 20% of total retailing, with overall growth of 13.9% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, explained: “For many economists this will be a further reflection of the state of consumer confidence. Although others will point out that December’s figures were poor because seasonal sales were pulled earlier into the November Black Friday sales.”

He pointed out that volumes at general merchandise retailers fell back the most during the month, mirroring what we have seen so far from the trading updates from major listed retailers. However, supermarkets have on the whole reported better numbers.

“This latest set of numbers will support the view that the economy slowed in the final three months of 2018. However, some economists are taking a positive slant from here since the retail caution can largely be blamed on the Brexit uncertainty,” Miah explained.

“With it looking more unlikely that a no-deal exit will be the outcome and the latest set of inflation and wage growth numbers showing real incomes rising, the retail environment could begin to see moderately better prospects from the spring onwards,” he added.

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