UK consumers spend more in August, but pinch persists – BRC


LONDON (Reuters) – British shoppers increased their spending in August at the fastest pace so far in 2017, excluding a surge in April caused by the Easter holiday, but there is little sign yet that the squeeze on spending is easing, retailers said on Tuesday.

Retail sales grew by an annual 1.3 percent on alike-for-like basis, which strips out changes in store size, the British Retail Consortium said.

Growth in total sales in August was also the highest non-Easter reading of the year, rising by 2.4 percent, speeding up from an increase of 1.4 percent in July.

“August provided a welcome pick-up in retail sales across channels, with non-food returning to growth as shoppers’ attentions turned to homewares, autumn clothing ranges and the new school term,” BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said.

“However, these figures tell a less positive story about the health of consumer spending than it might seem at first glance,” she said in a statement.

Non-food sales remain at levels seen two years ago and strong food sales largely reflect rising prices, with growth in volume terms weaker than last year, the BRC said.

A sharp fall in the value of sterling since the Brexit vote in June 2016, combined with weak increases in pay, has eaten into the spending power of households in Britain who are the main drivers of the country’s economy.

Dickinson said a rise in employee pension contributions in April next year would further squeeze disposable incomes.

Separately on Tuesday, credit card firm Barclaycard said British consumers increased their spending at a slower pace in August and fewer of them felt confident about their finances.

Consumer spending grew by 2.9 percent compared with August last year, down from a rise of 3.5 percent in July, Barclaycard said. The growth in spending last month was also weaker than the average increase of 3.8 percent so far in 2017.

Barclaycard said 54 percent of consumers who took part in a survey it commissioned felt confident in their household finances, down from a recent high of 69 percent in June.

Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Andy Bruce