Flat retail sales a poor omen for Q4

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RETAIL sales were flat last month according to official figures, adding to concerns that the wider economy may contract in the final quarter of 2012.

Sales volumes, including fuel, were stagnant month-on-month in November to give an annual rise of just 0.9 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said yesterday. Both results fell shy of analysts’ forecasts.

The report came just a day after the CBI’s distributive trades survey suggested a weak start to the key festive trading period. In recent days, however, a number of big names, including John Lewis, have reported robust trading as shoppers embark on a last-minute dash.

David Tinsley, UK economist at investment bank BNP Paribas, described the ONS data as disappointing but noted that sales at household goods stores had proven resilient, rising by 3.8 per cent on the month.

He said: “Looking to next year, the outlook for consumer spending is for growth, but nothing very dramatic.”

Commerzbank economist Peter Dixon added: “Consumers are still keeping their powder dry. Fourth-quarter activity as a whole is going to be fairly weak.”