Increasing evidence that December 2003 missed the retail sales boat has set warning bells ringing among analysts in the City of London, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Leading the parade of dismal data, the British Retail Consortium revealed that same-store sales (revenues at outlets open for at least one year) slipped by 0.2% in the month to December 27. Many analysts had anticipated a 0.5% gain.

Also provoking nervous tics among the moneymen are the three month cumulative sales figures for the period October-December. On a same-store basis, the numbers fell by 0.5%, the weakest performance since 1999.

The BRC data has done little for optimistic expectations in the week ahead, during which a number of major retailers -- Argos (GUS), Boots, Dixons, HMV and Marks & Spencer to name but five -- will update the market as to their holiday season performance.

But there are some notable exceptions, particularly at the upper end of the market sprectrum. Privately-owned cooperative, the John Lewis Partnership, whose stable includes twenty-five department stores and the ritzy supermarket chain Waitrose, achieved a hefty sales hike of 14% in the week to January 2.

And the nation's most profitable supermarket chain (by margin on sales), William Morrison, reports an increase in like-for-like revenues of 10% for the six weeks to January 4. Even the mighty Tesco -- let alone lesser fry such as J Sainsbury and Wal-Mart's Asda -- is likely to match that kind of performance in a sector of traditionally tight margins.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff