April 9, 2018 / 11:59 PM / 13 days ago

UK consumer spending wilts in March under heavy snow - surveys

British consumer spending wilted under heavy snow in March, according to surveys on Tuesday that added to signs the economy probably slowed at the start of 2018.

People walk along the street through the snow near Sterling Castle, Scotland, Britain, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Barclaycard, the credit and debit card division of Barclays (BARC.L), said annual consumer spending growth slowed to 2.0 percent in March from 3.8 percent in February, marking the weakest increase since April 2016.

A Siberian weather system that meteorologists called “the Beast from the East” brought rare snow and sub-zero temperatures to much of Britain in late February and early March.

Business surveys last week showed the dominant services sector and the construction industry were hit badly by the poor weather, although manufacturers fared better.

“The Beast from the East took its toll on the high street in March, keeping shoppers at home and leading to a slowdown in consumer spending,” Paul Lockstone, managing director at Barclaycard, said.

Separately, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said total retail sales values were up 2.3 percent in March compared with the same month a year ago, following a 1.6 percent year on year increase in February.

The growth reflected the fact that the Easter holiday sales took place in March this year rather than April like in 2017.

Retail sales values on a like-for-like basis, which strips out changes in floorspace, rose 1.4 percent in March after a 0.6 percent rise in February.

“Seemingly endless cold weather dissuaded would-be shoppers from the high street and a number of retailers delivered bad news,” said Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, which also sponsors the BRC report.

“Great hopes were placed on Easter trading, but whilst the latest figures point to overall improvement when compared to recent months, the Easter boost didn’t quite measure up to previous years.”

Most economists think Bank of England officials are unlikely to be too concerned by any weakness in economic growth caused by the bad weather, as this should reverse in the coming months. The central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates in May.

The first estimate of economic growth for the first quarter of 2018 is due to be published on April 27.

    Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Hugh Lawson; andy.bruce@thomsonreuters.com; +442075423484; Reuters Messaging: andy.bruce.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net

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