UK retail sales sees strong rise in May

Kate Davies, from the ONS, says the sales bounce back "has very much been led by promotions"

UK retail sales recorded a larger-than-expected rise last month, helped by a strong increase in food sales.

Sales rose 2.1% in May from the month before, and were up 1.9% from a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Supermarket discounts helped to boost food sales, which rose 3.5% from April, and online sales continued to rise.

Analysts said that the figures were further evidence that the UK economy was continuing to recover.

'Surprisingly positive'

May's sales increase was a big upswing compared with April, when High Street sales fell 1.1% after bad weather discouraged shoppers.

The rebound in sales was widespread across most stores, the ONS said.

"Feedback from retailers suggested that promotions on summer ranges led to this increase in sales."

The ONS said that online sales continued to show strong growth, rising 10.3% from a year earlier.

Commenting on the figures, Philip Rush of Nomura said: "It's surprisingly positive - even stronger than we expected. Food store sales bounced back very strongly and the other big surprise was clothing stores."

Sales at textile, clothing and footwear stores rose 1.1% year-on-year.

"Overall, the figures today are consistent with a fairly solid quarterly GDP figure for the second quarter," said David Tinsley, UK economist at BNP Paribas.

"The question is whether this momentum can be sustained into the second half of the year. We remain concerned economy-wide real income growth will not be sufficient to see this, though for now the UK is having a good run."

Car production

Despite the upbeat retail sales figures, news from elsewhere in the economy was less positive.

The latest survey from the CBI business lobby group found that UK factory orders rose only slightly this month, and companies became less confident about future prospects.

Separately, motor manufacturers reported a 8.4% fall in output in May, blaming continued weak demand from recession-hit European markets.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said 129,355 cars were produced in the month, although this was still above pre-recession levels.

Output for the first five months of 2013 was 632,804 units, down 0.6% on the same period last year.

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