March 6, 2012 / 12:10 AM / 8 years ago

Retail sales remain sluggish in February - BRC

LONDON (Reuters)- Retail sales remained sluggish last month, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday, in a survey that continued to contrast with the more upbeat trend in official data and another private-sector survey.

Shoppers walk along on Oxford Street ahead of Christmas weekend in London, December 23, 2011. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

The BRC said that like-for-like retail sales - a measure that strips out changes in floorspace and is favoured by equity analysts - fell by an annual 0.3 percent in February in value terms, the same decline as the previous month.

Total retail sales - a measure used more by economists and which is closer to that found in official statistics - rose 2.3 percent on the year after a 2.1 percent rise in January.

“The reality of weak sales shows that a convincing revival remains illusory,” said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

“Falling inflation has eased the squeeze on household finances and halted the slide in consumer confidence, but that’s at risk from fuel price rises and Budget uncertainty,” he added.

A surge in oil prices has pushed petrol prices to a record high, and some households fear further austerity measures in finance minister George Osborne’s 2012 budget this month.

At 3.6 percent, consumer price inflation is well below the three-year peak of 5.2 percent that it hit in September. But this still suggests that total retail sales are falling in volume terms, with consumers only attracted to many types of items if they were discounted, the BRC said.

The BRC figures contrast with official data for January, which showed a 4.4 percent annual rise in retail sales values, driven in part by smaller stores not covered in the BRC survey.

The Confederation of British Industry reported a strong rebound in sales in February.

The BRC said that strong food sales due to snowy weather at the start of February helped to drive overall growth, as Britons stocked up on pies, pizzas and puddings.

Britain’s biggest retailer, supermarket chain Tesco, announced 20,000 new jobs on Monday - though some analysts said this represented a reversal of previous job cuts that had led service levels to lag behind those of rivals.

Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Ron Askew

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