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Dire December retail sales increases the odds of a rate cut

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Retail sales in the month to December 2019 fell by 0.6% – the fifth consecutive month of zero growth – adding to the prospect of a base rate cut.

In the three months to December 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales decreased by 1% when compared with the previous three months, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.

This figure was brought down by a decline in spending in non-food stores, though spending in household goods stores and fuel increased.

The quantity bought in food stores fell by 1.3% in the key Christmas period, which was the largest fall since December 2016, also at 1.3%.

However, when comparing the three months to December against the same three months a year ago, growth in the quantity bought increased by 1.6%, despite a strong decline of 2.2% for department stores.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19% in December, compared with the 18.6% reported in November 2019.

Poor sales in December boom month

Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at Crimson Black Capital, said today’s dire retail sales data further raises the odds of a rate cut at the end of the month.

He said: “In a week that saw GDP data lurch towards stagnation and inflation fall sharply, the market’s conclusion is likely to be that the Bank of England will respond with monetary stimulus.

“With the UK economy drifting and no sign yet of a ‘Boris bounce’ feeding through into consumer confidence, the lack of inflationary pressure could easily persuade the Bank of England that the time is right to inject some zip into the economy with a rate cut, and sterling is likely to recalibrate accordingly.”

Ansal added that a string of major high street names have recently reported poor sales in what would normally be a boom month. “The UK high street is in a dark place right now,” he said.

Ed Monk, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, said: “2019 was miserable for retailers, topped off by a dismal Christmas trading season. Today’s figures will raise further questions around how robust the UK economy really is going into the year ahead.

“The picture we’re seeing from trading figures is that shoppers reined in spending in the months ahead of Christmas, with the December monthly figure showing there was no festive bounce to make up for lost ground. The government has pledged action to help retailers and calls for action are likely to grow now.”

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