May 23, 2012 / 8:36 AM / 8 years ago

Retail sales slide at fastest pace in 2 years in April

LONDON (Reuters) - Retail sales fell at their fastest monthly pace in more than two years in April, after a record drop in fuel sales and a weather-related drop in clothing sales, official data showed on Wednesday.

A woman passes a shop promoting a closing down sale in the City of London January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The weak start into the second quarter highlights the ongoing weakness of the economy and may raise speculation about another cash boost from the Bank of England.

The Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes fell 2.3 percent on the month - its biggest drop since January 2010 and more than twice as fast as forecast. The fall mo re than reversed an upwardly revised 2 percent rise in March.

On the year, sales fell 1.1 percent - confounding economists’ forecasts for an annual rise of 1.0 percent.

The ONS said the monthly decline was driven by a record drop in fuel sales following panic buying of fuel in March that had resulted in petrol stations being unable to restock in time in April.

Record rainfall in April meanwhile depressed sales of clothing and footwear, which fell at its sharpest monthly pace since June 2008.

Business surveys had already indicated that the retailers struggled in April, though the CBI survey had also shown that retailers were more confident about the month ahead.

However, with inflation still outpacing meagre wage increases and the euro zone crisis still denting confidence, many Britons remain reluctant to increase spending.

Recent news from major retailers has painted a negative picture of the retail sector’s performance.

Britain’s biggest clothing retailer Marks & Spencer slashed its sales growth forecast on Tuesday, signalling it expects consumer spending to remain weak as the government focuses on cutting debt and the economy struggles to grow.

Last April record temperatures and an extra holiday for the Royal Wedding boosted retail sales but this year April was Britain’s wettest since records began, which is likely

to have weighed on this year’s figures.

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