May 24, 2019 / 8:38 AM / 25 days ago

RPT-UK shoppers pause for breath in April after surge in spending

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    LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) - British shoppers paused for
breath in April after months of strong buying, according to
official data that showed continued underlying strength of
consumer spending during the Brexit crisis.
    Monthly retail sales volumes were flat last month, the
Office for National Statistics said, compared with a median
forecast for a 0.3% decline in a Reuters poll of economists.
    But during the three months to April sales increased 1.8%,
the fastest growth by this measure since August last year.
    Consumer spending has been a relative bright spot for the
British economy, contrasting with businesses cutting on
investment throughout last year and slower global growth.
    Britain was originally due to leave the European Union on
March 29 but that deadline was pushed back to Oct. 31 as Prime
Minister Theresa May failed to break an impasse in parliament on
the terms of Brexit.
    "Retail growth was strong in the three months to April with
a record quarter for the online sector, driven mainly by
clothing purchases, with warmer weather boosting sales," ONS
statistician Rhian Murphy said.
    "Elsewhere, department stores continued to see their sales
fall."
    Compared with April 2018, sales were up by 5.2% after a 6.7%
annual rise in March, better than expected in the Reuters poll. 
      
    Low inflation, a steady rise in wages and the lowest
unemployment since 1975 have boosted household incomes over the
past year, though after inflation wages are still below their
peak before the financial crisis.
    Surveys from the British Retail Consortium and payments
company Barclaycard suggested  Britons splashed out in bars and
restaurants at the expense of retailers in the Easter holidays
last month.             
    Retailers themselves have reported mixed fortunes this
month. 
    Morrisons        , Britain's No. 4 grocer, missed quarterly
growth forecasts, blaming political and economic uncertainty and
No. 3 player Asda         warned of an "increasingly challenging
backdrop". However, discounter B&M          said it enjoyed it
best ever Easter trading season.             
                        

 (Reporting by William Schomberg and Andy Bruce)
  
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