Rain fails to dampen shops' sales

Mid Devon Star: High street sales have increased despite the exceptionally wet weather High street sales have increased despite the exceptionally wet weather

Britain's rain-lashed high streets overcame exceptional wet weather and floods to post the highest rise in sales for more than a year and a half, according to new figures.

The latest distributive trades survey from the CBI revealed the best reading since June 2012 as clothes sales bounced back after a dismal January, while supermarkets and furniture and carpet firms also enjoyed buoyant trade in a reversal of last month's post-Christmas cut-back.

A poll of 120 firms between January 23 and February 12 showed 45% of retailers overall said sales volumes in the year to February were higher, while 8% said they were down, giving a balance of 37%.

This was far better than expected and came after January saw clothing firms suffer the worst reading for nearly five years due to unseasonably mild temperatures.

But while it has been a warmer winter, retailers have battled against torrential rain and severe flooding.

Barry Williams, c hair of the CBI distributive trades survey panel and Asda's chief merchandising officer for food, said: "Overall sales have been remarkably resilient in the face of disruption from the exceptional weather across the UK, which has badly affected many families and businesses."

Despite a sharp slowdown in sales growth in January, the CBI survey has shown rising sales for nine months in a row.

It added that retailers are also expecting a robust March, although the pace of sales growth is seen slowing slightly.

Official figures last week confirmed the high street sales revival, with the Office for National Statistics reporting volumes 4.3% higher year on year in January in spite of a 1.5% drop against the previous month following a bumper Christmas.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said the CBI sales figures were a "a real lift to growth prospects in the first quarter".

He added: "This indicates that the very wet weather and flooding did not deter consumers from spending."

The CBI figures showed the reading for clothing firms rebounded from minus 55% in January to plus 33% in February, while grocers enjoyed their strongest rise in sales since June 2012.

Furniture and carpet firms saw sales grow at the fastest pace since last September.

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