UK retail sales pick up ahead of Christmas, January plunge feared – CBI

FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk down Oxford Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, December 13, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

December 21, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – British retail sales recovered in December as restrictions on shops were eased and consumers bought food and other essentials ahead of Christmas, but the outlook for January was the worst since the summer, a survey showed on Monday.

The Confederation of British said its monthly retail sales balance rose to -3 in December from -25 in November, its highest level in three months.

But the outlook for January was much more negative with a reading of -33.

“It says something about the challenges the retail sector has faced during 2020 that stable sales volumes in the run-up to Christmas were seen as a good result for the time of year,” CBI economist Ben Jones said.

“The new year looks set for an unpromising start, with retailers anticipating a sharp fall in sales in January.”

The survey was conducted between Nov. 23 and Dec. 14, covering the end of a second English coronavirus lockdown, when non-essential shops were closed – and the return to tiered restrictions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday a new tougher lockdown for London and nearby parts of England.

Grocers, furniture vendors and retailers of other “normal goods,” such as cards, flowers and jewellery, saw strong growth, according to the CBI survey.

But clothing, footwear and department stores again reported that volumes were lower than a year earlier.

The CBI said stock levels were viewed as broadly adequate for expected sales, but the balance of responses was the lowest in more than a decade.

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Kate Holton)