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UK High Street Sales Suffer "Most Horrific" October On Record

The writing was on the wall two weeks ago when retail employment tumbled along with CBI-reported retail sales, but tonight's BDO High Street Sales Tracker should be the icing on the cake for any looming rate hike as like-for-like sales crashed 5.2% - describe by BDO as "the most horrific" October on record.

It was the worst month since right before Brexit in April 2016.

Consumers resisted spending in October following the rise of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to 3% in September. Recent confidence barometers have also suggested a creeping decline in economic and spending confidence amongst consumers.

As wage increases continue to be outstripped by higher inflation, and with the (now real) anticipation of higher mortgage payments, then it comes as little surprise that people are tightening their belts prior to the anticipated Christmas expenditure.

Fashion sales plunged 7.9% YoY and were the wost segment, but retailers aren’t alone; restaurant, pub and bar groups “also feeling the pinch” in recent weeks.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Chief Economist, blamed the weakness on higher inflation.

“It’s clear retailers are beginning to really feel the pinch from higher inflation. While retail sales can be volatile from month to month, the steep drop in sales in October echoes other recent data pointing to a marked softening in consumer demand.”

This collapse fits with what we noted previously, as the British Retail Consortium reported that retail employment dropped at the fastest rate since 2008.

From The Independent, UK retailers cut jobs over the past three months at the fastest rate since comparable records began in 2008, due to technological change and rising employment costs, the British Retail Consortium said on Thursday.

The BRC, which represents major retailers, said its members employed 3.0 per cent fewer staff in the third quarter of this year than during the same time in 2016, and total hours worked fell by 4.2 per cent year-on-year.

Both were the steepest falls since the BRC started collecting records in 2008, when Britain was in the middle of its sharpest recession in decades. This contrasts with the picture in the broader economy, where the unemployment rate is its lowest since 1975 and job creation has been strong, albeit partly at the expense of wages. Still, the BRC report chimed with a European Commission survey last month that showed British retailers’ expectations for employment sank to their lowest since late 2011.

“The pace of job reductions in the retail industry is gathering steam,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

 

“Behind this shrinking of the workforce is both a technological revolution in retail, which is reducing demand for labour, and government policy, which is driving up the cost of employment,” she added.

Retail, which accounts for just under 10 per cent of jobs in Britain, has a lot of low-paid jobs that have been affected by rapid rises in the minimum wage in recent years, as well as a new government training levies and pension requirements.