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Pound falls as retail sales figures show shock decline in September

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
UK retail sales fell 0.8% in the month to September, dragged down by lower consumer spending in non-food stores, official statistics show.

Economists had expected a fall back in the rate following a strong 0.9% rise in the previous month, but this was weaker than expected.

However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the underlying pattern in the retail industry is “one of growth” as on a three-month on three-month basis, the amount of goods bought rose by 0.6%.

Year on year growth was 1.2% as spending on household goods and clothing supported the figures.

Store prices continue to rise across all store types and, at 3.3%, they’re at their highest (year-on-year) since March 2012 .

Online sales values increased year-on-year by 14%, accounting for approximately 17% of all retail spending.

Kate Davies, ONS senior statistician said: “September’s retail sales saw a monthly decline of 0.8%, reversing August’s growth. However, there is a continuation of the underlying trend of steady growth in sales volumes following a weak start to the year, and a background of generally rising prices. These increased costs are reflected in the more rapid growth in the amount spent, when compared with the quantity bought.

Following the publication of the figures sterling fell around 0.5% against the dollar.

Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, said attention will turn to the Bank of England as inflation hit 3%, while average wage growth languishes at around 2%, despite record low unemployment rates.

“This will leave the Bank of England with a difficult decision to make. The imminent rise in interest rates, possibly next month, could need reassessing and delayed for a little while longer so not to derail consumer shopping habits further. The retail sector is a large component of the GDP numbers and Bank of England policy members will not want to risk stalling an already slowing economy.”

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said shoppers are tightening belts and are prioritising spending on essential items as prices rise.

“Taking a longer-term view the UK consumer has actually been relatively resilient to rising inflation and weak wage growth, and retail sales volumes are still ahead of where they were last year despite these headwinds.

“These latest figures will however give the Bank of England further food for thought when it comes to their impending decision on interest rates. Indeed, a nasty case of indigestion is probably warranted.”

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