February figures show retail boost but not for all sectors

February produced an unexpected rise but the overall picture is still weak
February produced an unexpected rise but the overall picture is still weak

Retail sales jumped in February as prices rose at their smallest year-on-year rate since January last year, figures show.

Retail sales volumes rose 0.8% on January, driven mostly by supermarkets, vehicle fuel and online shopping, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Non-food retailers, which include department stores and clothes shops, suffered a fall in sales.

However the three-month figure to February, which smooths out monthly volatility, shows sales fell by 0.4% after poor sales in December and January.

The figures show retail prices rose in February by 2.5% year-on-year, the smallest increase since January 2017.

Compared with a year earlier, the ONS said February retail sales were up 1.5% amid expectations of a 1.3% rise.

ONS senior statistician Rhian Murphy said: “Retail sales did grow in February, with increases seen in food, non-store and fuel, but this followed two months of declines in these sectors.

“However, the underlying three-month picture is one of falling sales, mainly due to strong declines across all sectors in December.

“Store prices continue to rise across all store types, but at a lower rate than the previous month due to a slowdown in price growth, though clothing and household goods stores continued to see stronger price rises.”

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “UK retail sales jumped 0.8% in February after falling 0.2% in January’s disappointing data.

“Economists had expected a smaller rise of 0.4%.

“But the champagne remains on ice for now. The monthly numbers are always volatile and the underlying trend is still one of weakness.