UK retail sales spike as most shops reopen

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UK clients stormed retail traders as shops started reopening in April, BBC reported. The retail trade sector reported a rapid surge in spending on clothes and non-essential goods, the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Retail sales jumped 9.2% in April, with sales of clothing soaring by nearly 70% compared with March.

Sales overall were more than 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels, although online sales dipped. Fuel sales also rose, but remained below levels seen before the pandemic. Retailers such as clothing and furniture stores, which the government classed as non-essential, reopened to shoppers in England on 12 April after shutting in early January.

The "astonishing" surge in clothing and footwear sales in April "showed that households were particularly keen to update their wardrobes", Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics told BBC. He said that there was less scope now for more big gains in retail sales, but added that recent data suggested that the economic recovery in May was "driven by people going back to the pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres".

"Improved weather during April meant greater sales of fashion, particularly in outerwear and knitwear, as the public renewed their wardrobe and made plans to meet friends and family outdoors," said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson. However, she said that while the figures were "a step in the right direction", demand "remains fragile".

The annual UK inflation rate more than doubled in April, as a rise in energy and clothing costs drove prices higher. The jump to 1.5% in April from 0.7% in March, means consumer prices are rising at their fastest rate since March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. The sharp increase largely reflected a jump in prices from low levels a year ago at the start of the pandemic, the ONS said.

April's inflation rise had been predicted by economists, but there are concerns that soaring inflation this year as the global economy recovers from the pandemic could push central banks to raise interest rates.

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