UK retail sales fall after petrol sales slump

Kate Davies, Office for National Statistics: "Petrol sales have fallen by 13%"

Retail sales volumes fell by 2.3% in April, largely because of a record fall in petrol sales, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Sales of fuel were down by 13.2% in April. In March, motorists had panic-bought petrol ahead of a threatened tanker driver strike.

Sales of clothing and footwear were also affected by April's record rainfall.

April's fall comes after sales had risen by 2% in March.

Stripping out the impact of the fall in petrol sales, total retail sales volumes were down 1% between March and April.

For the year, sales were down by 1.1%, whereas analysts had forecast a rise of 1%.

Consumers remained to reluctant to spend more. Retail sales values rose by 0.4% compared with a year ago, the slowest rate of growth since January 2010.

In addition, the ONS said April's sales values in predominantly food stores increased by just 0.1% compared with the year before, the smallest year-on-year growth since records began in January 1989.

The ONS said food price inflation was 3.7% in April compared with a year ago, constraining food budgets.

Philip Shaw, from Investec, said exceptional factors made the figures difficult to read: "The headline number is very very weak indeed, but that's mainly due to the effect of lower fuel sales over the threatened strike period. Nonetheless, stripping that out, there is still a big drop in sales, which is probably weather-related.

"So it's very difficult to get a gauge of underlying strength of High Street activity from these numbers, given so very big distorting factors."

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