Retail sales pick up modestly - BRC

LONDON Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:19am GMT

LONDON (Reuters) - Retail sales edged up in November, though by less than analysts were expecting, as shoppers hunted for cheap Christmas gifts, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday.

The improvement follows a solid reading from November's retail sales index from the Confederation of British Industry, and a rise in consumer confidence on the GfK measure to its highest in 18 months, after weak official data in October.

Like-for-like retail sales - a measure that strips out changes in floorspace and is favoured by equity analysts - rose by 0.4 percent in value on the year, after falling 0.1 percent in October, the BRC said. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.9 percent rise.

Total retail sales - a measure used more by economists and which is closer to that found in official statistics - rose 1.8 percent in value terms on the year, up from 1.1 percent growth in October.

But with inflation running at 2.7 percent, this suggests that retail sales volumes are still falling.

"Overall, the emphasis continued to be on value with consumers looking at lower-priced gifts," said BRC Director Stephen Robertson.

"The same caution hit online sales, which delivered their third worst performance of the year. With consumers conscious that there will be a full shopping weekend immediately before Christmas, retailers are holding their nerve and counting on a last-minute rush," he added.

November's figures were also flattered by the timing of school half-term holidays and weak retail sales a year earlier the BRC, added.

Growth in retail sales volumes has been weak since the 2008 -09 financial crisis, in large part because high inflation and low wage increases have eroded Britons' disposable income.

The BoE is pinning part of its forecast for stronger growth in 2013 on a pick-up in consumer spending as inflation falls closer to its 2 percent target.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)