Poor UK retail sales in the run-up to Christmas have prompted calls for a lowering of bank interest rates.

The figures, released by the British Retail Consortium and accountants KPMG, show same-store sales down by 0.4% on December 2003 - the worst showing in ten years.

According to the BRC, the only winners were the food and drink sectors. It appears shoppers kept their powder dry until the last days of December when they rushed to take advantage of increasingly desperate discounting. Clothing, furniture and electrical goods sales suffered in particular.

Many big High Street names, such as Marks and Spencer and Woolworths have reported disappointing results.

Although total sales were up by 2.5%, BRC ceo Kevin Hawkins urges the Bank of England to cut the cost of borrowing, adding grimly: "The lack of consumer confidence, created by uncertainty over the economy and housing market, dominated December and remains a strong concern for the sector as it shows no sign of abating in the immediate future."

Some industry observers, however, wonder if someone somewhere might be massaging the numbers to boost the case for a cut in interest rates?

If same-store sales are down 0.4% and overall sales up by 2.5%, this implies a bumper crop of new retail outlets around the UK - a majority of which appear to be doing spectacularly well.

And if there really are that many newcomers, isn't it inevitable that they will erode the market share of existing outlets?

The BRC's press department was unable to comment on this apparent anomaly, promising that an executive familar with the data would return WAMN's call. He didn't.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff