UK retail sales rebound strongly in April

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London (AFP)

British retail sales jumped far more than expected in April, rebounding from a slump the previous month caused by "Beast from the East" freezing weather.

"The quantity bought in April increased by 1.6 percent as all sectors, excluding department stores, recovered from the declines seen in March" when sales slumped 1.1 percent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

Analysts' consensus forecast had been for a rebound of 0.7 percent in April.

Online sales meanwhile surged 17.3 percent in April from a year earlier, led by purchases of food and clothing, the ONS added.

Major British retailers are cutting store numbers as consumers increasingly move to online shopping.

Food-to-clothing retailer Marks and Spencer on Tuesday said it plans to expand a store-closure programme to more than one hundred.

British retail sales had meanwhile suffered in March as blasts of icy weather from Siberia engulfed Europe, while April's rebound boosted the pound which had fallen Wednesday on news of falling British inflation.

"This bounce for sterling contrasts with yesterday's decline and shows how the currency is currently trading on the release of every piece of economic data," said Hamish Muress, currency analyst at OFX.

Markets are closely studying such releases for clues regarding the timing of the next interest-rate hike from the Bank of England (BoE).

"After a stream of recent disappointing data and surveys, the April retail sales data provide some hope that the (UK) economy may be coming back to life after its marked first-quarter downturn which seems to have been only partly due to the severe weather," said Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.

He added that BoE policymakers are likely to view the retail data "with caution as they want to see sustained conclusive evidence that the economy is bouncing back significantly in the second quarter".

Earlier this month, the Bank of England left its key interest rate at 0.50 percent as it slashed the growth forecast for the British economy less than one year before Brexit.

The BoE's situation contrasts with the Federal Reserve, which is seen as being able to lift interest rates several times this year owing to a strengthening US economy and high inflation, in turn handing a boost to savers.