Wet April sends UK retailers running for cover
(Reuters) - Shoppers opted for umbrellas instead of summer dresses, and preferred gadgets to gardening tools during Britain's wettest April on record.
Last month's soggy weather heaped more misery on a recession-hit high street, which is grappling with rising costs and weak demand as disposable incomes are squeezed by rising prices, muted wage growth and government austerity.
Retail sales volumes fell 2.3 percent in April from March, the biggest monthly drop in two years, government data published on Wednesday showed.
The UK endured record levels of rainfall last month, according to the meteorological office, keeping at home many of the shoppers who had been drawn out by sunny weather in March.
Clothing retailers were hit hardest.
Market leader Marks & Spencer Group Plc said on Tuesday the start of the new financial year got off to a tough start in April, while No.2 Next Plc said last month's weather took the shine off a strong March.
Greggs Plc, which sells sandwiches, savouries, bread, cakes and pastries on high streets around the country, also blamed the weather for a drop in underlying sales.
"If customers are prevented from coming to the high street for lunch then that sale is lost, as they don't, for example, buy two sandwiches the following day," Chief Executive Ken McMeikan told reporters last week.
Only department store chain John Lewisseemed happy with the rainy spring. The employee-owned retailer's weekly figures repeatedly referred to it as a positive factor during the month and into May, especially for sales of homeware and electrical goods like iPads.
Quarterly results due next week from Kingfisher Plc, Europe's biggest home improvement retailer, could also show the effects of the wet weather, brokerages Jefferies, Seymour Pierce and Liberum Capital said.
"Kingfisher's Q1 earnings are set to confirm a weather-challenged UK performance and slowing trends in France," Jefferies analyst James Grzinic said in a note.
Earlier, brokerage Seymour Pierce downgraded Kingfisher's stock to "hold" from "buy" and cited the weather as a negative factor for performance in the three months to end-April.
In a hint that Kingfisher's sales of garden products may have been hit particularly badly, Marshalls Plc, a maker of outdoor fixtures for gardens and driveways, said sales fell by 8 percent in the four months of the year, largely due to the wet weather.
But then there were umbrella sales.
Online shopping website Very.co.uk, part of Shop Direct Group, which has five million active customers, said its umbrella sales rose 48 percent in April, while sales of waterproof jackets jumped 64 percent.
(Reporting by Karen Rebelo in Bangalore; Editing by Ted Kerr)
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