High Street crisis worst on record as 'dire' sales fall again

Jonathan Prynn
PA Wire/PA Images

The crisis on the High Street is now officially the worst on record, with “dire” retail sales stalling for an unprecedented fifth consecutive month in December.

The Office for National Statistics said spending dropped 0.6 per cent in December, despite the Black Friday and Cyber Monday long weekend of deep discounts.

The ONS has not recorded such a long run of stagnating or falling sales since it began collecting detailed figures in 1996.

The worse-than-expected data left City analysts having to revisit their economic forecasts, with an interest rate cut at the end of January now seen as more likely than not.

Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at hedge fund Crimson Black Capital, said: “The UK high street is in a dark place.”

He added: “In a week that saw GDP data lurch towards stagnation and inflation fall sharply, the market’s conclusion is likely to be that the Bank of England will respond with monetary stimulus.”

Today’s ONS data follows figures from the British Retail Consortium this month suggesting that 2019 as a whole was the worst year on record for the retail sector.

It also comes after gloomy Christmas trading statements from major high street names including John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.

Ed Monk, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, said: “Today’s figures will raise further questions around how robust the UK economy really is.”

The survey covers the period from November 24 to December 28, meaning it includes half a month of the more politically stable period after Boris Johnson’s decisive election victory on December 12.

Supermarkets appear to have been particularly hard hit, with a fall in sales of 1.3 per cent, the biggest for three years. Non-food sales were down 0.9 per cent, but petrol stations and online retailers fared better.

Richard Lim, chief executive of analysts Retail Economics, said: “The backdrop of healthier household finances has not benefited the retail industry as consumers remain very cautious.”

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