High street bounce augurs well for economic pick-up

Retail sales staged a bigger-than-expected bounce-back last month as shoppers returned to the high street after a weather-hit January, according to official figures.

Shoppers have returned to the high street figures show. Picture: Toby Williams

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales volumes rose 1.7 per cent month-on-month in February, smashing forecasts for sales to edge 0.5 per cent higher.

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It comes after a disappointing January, with the ONS revealing that sales fell even more than first thought, down by 2 per cent against an initial estimate for a 1.5 per cent decline.

Even stripping out the often volatile changes from month to month, sales were 1.6 per cent higher in the three months to the end of February compared with the previous three-month period. Experts said the figures boosted hopes for another robust performance from the economy in the first quarter, easing fears that the extreme wet weather and flooding knocked the recovery off track.

Alan Clarke, director at Scotiabank, said the figures showed retail sales “are flying”.