British Consumers Start to Zip Their Wallets

24 March 2003

The consumer boom that has sustained the UK economy over the past forty-two months slipped for the second month in succession during February, according to the latest data from the National Statistics Office.

February retail sales were 0.1% down on the month prior – the first time since September-October 1998 that sales have declined two months in a row. Rolling annual retail growth also edged downward to 3.2%, its nadir since July 1999. This fall reflected the retail spectrum as a whole, with no single sector weighting the decline, reported the ONS.

The usual talking heads were wheeled out for their incisive comment: “It’s disappointing that retail sales fell on the month and confirms a picture of slowing consumer demand,” said Investec chief economist Philip Shaw. “But how much of this is due to war tension and how much to the fundamental picture is difficult to judge.”

This data, released hard on the heels of another survey (of residential property prices) by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, “is going to put an increased focus on what is happening to the consumer. It raises the risk of an even sharper consumer slowdown,” opined another rent-a-quote at Lehman Brothers.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff