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UK Retail Spending Back To Near Pre-Lockdown Levels

July 24, 2020 at 11:56AM

Britain’s stores have become the envy of the retail world.

Reuters reports retail sales returned to near pre-COVID-19 lockdown levels last month when so-called non-essential stores in England reopened.

In June, sales volumes increased by 14 percent from May, surpassing forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists.

Combined clothing and footwear sales swelled by 70 percent as retailers put the recent slump in the rear view mirror.

Still, the news service reported spending is 35 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Sales volumes rose to within 0.6 percent of February’s level. But when fuel sales, which have dropped as residents stay home, are excluded, volumes were 2.4 percent higher than in February.

Other retail sectors also saw strong sales in June including furniture and do-it-yourself stores. Home improvement retailer Kingfisher Plc, the London-based home improvement company with more than 1,360 stores in nine European countries, forecast profits will beat last year’s numbers following exceptionally strong demand, Reuters reported.

In Britain, retail represents one third of consumer spending.

But other data indicates people remain cautious about returning to bars and restaurants.

“The surge in retail sales volumes…in June is not a sign that households’ overall spending also is recovering fully and rapidly,” Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Macroeconomics, an economic research consultancy based in Newcastle, told Reuters.

Britain’s economy slipped by more than 25 percent in March and April and recovered slightly in May when the government relaxed the lockdown imposed in late March.

Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, told the news service that a review of payments data suggests a rapid, V-shaped recovery, but many of his colleagues doubt a sustained recovery is on the horizon.

The British Retail Consortium, a trade association in the United Kingdom, has said spending among its members was 3.4 percent higher in June compared to June 2019.

Sales were off 1.6 percent last month compared to a year ago, but the decline was far smaller fall than 6.4 percent economists expected, according to the Reuters poll.

Online spending had a lot to do with the uptick. At nearly 32 percent, it bested February’s 20 percent.

In the U.S., the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that June retail sales rose to $524.3 billion, up 7.5 percent from $487.7 billion in May.

But there has been growing concern about the rise in coronavirus cases in many states. In places where the pandemic surged in June, online spending fell 2.4 percent last month while sales at grocery stores dropped 1.6 percent.


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