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UK retail sales rebound in July on warm weather, discounts

Shoppers pass TopShop retail store, operated by Arcadia Group Ltd., on Oxford Street in central London, U.K. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

By BLOOMBERG

LONDON • UK retail sales bounced back strongly in July as warmer weather and extended discounts at stores encouraged shoppers to open their wallets.

Sales gained 0.7% from June, compared to a median estimate of a 0.2% gain in a Bloomberg survey. The increase was led by online sales, food and clothing, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in London. Excluding auto fuel, sales jumped 0.9%.

Britons enjoyed a heat wave this summer that lifted spending, while the soccer World Cup helped boost sales of food and drink. Still, the warm weather may have kept people away from some high-street stores as online spending climbed to a record proportion of total.

The pound climbed after the data and was 0.2% higher at US$1.2730 (RM5.22) as of 9:34am in London yesterday.

The Bank of England raised interest rates this month to the highest level in almost a decade on concern that domestic price pressures are building.

A report on Wednesday showed the inflation rate climbed to 2.5%, above the central bank’s 2% target.

Still, the depreciation of the pound triggered by Brexit and meager wage growth so far have made it harder for consumers. The country is only just emerging from a year in which price gains outstripped wage growth. That’s been brutal for UK retailers.

Department store House of Fraser needed a rescue package this month to avoid insolvency. Home improvement chain Homebase said it will close more than 40 stores in Britain and Ireland.

In the past year, the sector has seen British Home Stores, Maplin Electronics and the UK arm of Toys “R” Us Inc falling victim to the squeeze.

Traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are struggling in the face of competition from the Internet. Spending online jumped to a record 18.2% of all retailing in July, the same level as in department stores, while summer discounts lasted longer than usual this year, both online and in stores, the ONS said.

Over three months, sales gained 2.1% from the previous period, the ONS said. From a year ago, retail sales increased 3.5% in July. Excluding fuel, annual growth was 3.7%.