UK consumer spending softens in April, surveys show

(Reuters) - British consumers kept a tight rein on their spending last month, according to surveys on Tuesday that showed tepid activity even after accounting for the timing of the Easter holidays.

Barclays said annual growth in consumer spending on its payment cards slowed to 1.6% in April, its weakest since February 2021, down from 1.9% in March and effectively a fall after adjusting for inflation.

Separately, the British Retail Consortium reported a sharp drop in retail sales values this April compared with a year earlier. The earlier date of Easter this year meant spending in the run-up to the holiday took place in March not April.

However, the trade body said sales were disappointing even after adjusting for this.

Retail sales values - not adjusting for inflation - fell by 4.0% year-on-year in April, after a 3.5% rise in March, the BRC said. Taking March and April together, sales were up 0.2% compared with a year earlier.

"Dismal weather and disappointing sales led to a depressing start to spring for retailers, even accounting for the change in timing of Easter," BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said.

Overall the surveys underlined the outlook for only tepid economic growth in Britain, despite business surveys recently pointing to some upside.

The data are likely to noted by members of the Bank of England's interest rate-setting committee, which on Thursday announces its decision for May. Official retail data for April are not due until May 24.

On the plus side, Barclays said consumers had grown more confident about their finances.

"While improving consumer confidence offers a ray of hope for the retail and hospitality industries as the summer season approaches, many retailers have adjusted their expectations, anticipating no real recovery until the autumn," said Karen Johnson, head of retail at Barclays.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by David Milliken)