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January 23, 2010

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Consumers celebrate end to a tough year

RETAIL sales in the United Kingdom rose 3.6 percent in December as consumers celebrated the end of a tough year of recession by splurging on food and drink, according to official data released yesterday.

The figures, however, were less bullish than some industry reports and surveys had suggested.

The Office for National Statistics said the value of retail sales in stores dealing mainly in food was 4.9 percent higher than a year earlier, while spending in nonfood stores was up 1.6 percent. By volume, food stores posted a 2.8 percent gain while nonfood store sales were up 0.7 percent.

Internet sales accounted for 4.9 percent of total spending, the agency said.

Analysts said UK inflation figures released on Tuesday, which showed a 2.9 percent jump in the Consumer Price Index in December, suggested that retailers did not resort to the early and deep discounting of a year ago.

There was also some evidence that consumers made some purchases in December to beat a rise in sales tax in the new year.

Analysts said they had been hoping for a stronger rise considering upbeat statements by individual retailers.

Earlier this week, the British Retail Consortium hailed December as the best in at least seven years, with sales volume up 12 percent in central London. For the country as a whole, the BRC reported sales up 4.2 percent.

"December's modest rise in UK retail sales is disappointing given the far more upbeat tone of the surveys and trading updates" from shops, said Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics.


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