LONDON (Reuters) - British retail sales grew at their strongest annual rate in almost two years last month, bolstered by dry weather and a rebound in demand for big-ticket items and household goods, industry data showed on Tuesday.
The British Retail Consortium said the total value of retail sales grew by 4.4 percent in February compared with a year earlier, up from 3.0 percent growth in January.
The data offers some grounds for optimism about the health of Britain's economy, after manufacturing and construction data over the past few days that has suggested the economy may be on the verge of its third recession in four years.
The BRC figures also paint a more upbeat picture than official data released last month, which cover smaller firms not included in the BRC survey and showed no annual growth in value terms in January's retail sales.
On a like-for-like measure that strips out changes in stores' floor space and is favoured by equity analysts, the BRC said retail sales were 2.7 percent up on a year earlier.
Both BRC measures showed the fastest rate of growth since April 2011. If months when the timing of Easter distorted the data are excluded, February's growth rates are the strongest in three years or more, the industry body said.
"February saw growth across all parts of retailing, with big-ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well, possibly reflecting better conditions in the housing market," said BRC director-general Helen Dickinson.
Mortgage approvals rose to an 11-month high in December, helped in part by a Bank of England scheme to boost lending.
The survey said that clothes sales rose at the fastest pace in five months, helped by dry weather, while food sales were sluggish, in part because of a fall in sale of frozen burgers after some beef products were found to contain horse meat.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)