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UK retail sales shrug off Brexit-fuelled inflation

© AFP | Shoppers make their way along Oxford Street in London

LONDON (AFP) - 

British retail sales defied rising prices caused by Brexit to surge by a faster-than-expected 1.0 percent in August, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday.

The acceleration, up from a rise of 0.6 percent in July, confounded analysts' expectations for a slowdown in retail sales growth last month.

ONS Senior Statistician Kate Davies said Britain was witnessing "strong price increases across all store types compared with a year ago, reflecting wider inflationary pressures.

"However, we are still seeing underlying growth in sales volumes, and with strong growth in non-essential purchases as consumers continued to buy more from non-food stores," she said.

British inflation has risen sharply in recent months as a Brexit-hit pound raised import costs.

That, in turn, has increased the likelihood of the Bank of England raising interest rates before the end of 2017, according to analysts.

"The UK consumer continues to show remarkable resilience, with retail sales in August blowing economists' forecasts out of the water," said Ben Brettell, economist at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown.

The latest data "could bode well for economic growth -- the UK economy is heavily reliant on the consumer, and economists had expected falling real incomes to eventually translate into weak retail sales," the expert said.

While overall inflation is picking up, wage growth in Britain has stalled, offsetting recent official data showing that the UK unemployment rate has fallen to a new 42-year low at 4.3 percent.

bcp/rfj/spm

British retail sales rose in July, slightly beating expectations, official data showed on Thursday, even though household incomes are still feeling the squeeze from a Brexit-fuelled slump in the pound.

Overall retail sales grew by 0.3 percent last month, buoyed by robust food purchases, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

That was the same rate of growth as in June and slightly faster than analysts' consensus forecast for a rise of 0.2 percent.

"Strong food sales have been responsible for the growth of 0.3 percent in July compared with June, as all other main sectors have shown a decrease," said ONS senior statistician Ole Black.

Analysts said the outlook remained clouded by Brexit uncertainties.

"Spending has defied expectations of a slowdown since the Brexit referendum, and currently seems to be holding up despite weak wage growth and above-target inflation," said Hargreaves Lansdown economist, Ben Brettell.

"This could bode well for economic growth. The UK economy is heavily reliant on the consumer, and economists had expected falling real incomes to eventually translate into weak retail sales," he said.

Separate official data earlier this week showed Britain's annual inflation rate steadied in July, with an expected rise failing to materialise as the pound recovers, lowering import costs.

Britain's unemployment rate has meanwhile struck a new 42-year low, official data showed Wednesday, as the uncertainty of Brexit boosts temporary hirings.

The rate dipped to 4.4 percent in the three months to June to record the lowest level since 1975.

The British government Tuesday said that it would seek a "temporary customs union" with the European Union after Brexit, in an opening gambit for trade negotiations that received a cool response from Brussels.

The government proposed to continue for around two years the kind of tariff-free arrangements that apply now to EU-UK trade in goods, to give businesses more time to adapt to new post-Brexit systems.

© 2017 AFP