UK retail sales fell in November as lockdown hit stores

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LONDON (Reuters) -British retail sales fell sharply last month when a four-week lockdown in England closed stores which sold non-essential goods to the public, official figures showed on Friday.

Retail sales volumes dropped by 3.8% on the month in November, their biggest decline since the first lockdown in April and broadly in line with the forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, after a 1.3% increase in October.

Annual sales growth halved to 2.4% from 5.8%, the Office for National Statistics said.

Retail has been one of the few bright spots in Britain’s economy since the COVID pandemic, which the Bank of England estimates has caused Britain’s economy to shrink 11% over the course of 2020, the biggest slump since 1709.

Consumer confidence data for December, released earlier on Friday, showed the biggest jump in eight years as households welcomed news of the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

However the picture has been extremely mixed across the retail sector, with online retailers booming and supermarkets enjoying solid results, but many clothing retailers struggling from the closure of their high-street premises.

Inflation data on Wednesday showed the biggest annual fall in clothing and footwear prices in a decade, due in part to unusually large Black Friday discounts.

The BoE estimates Britain’s economy as a whole will shrink by just over 1% in the final quarter of 2020, slightly less than it feared a month ago, but expects slower growth in early 2021 due to longer-lasting lockdown restrictions.

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