High street sales were moderately buoyant this month according to the new CBI Distributive Trades survey. At 18 percent, the balance of respondents reporting higher volume sales versus a year ago was up fully 17 percentage points from February but still well short of the exceptionally high readings posted over the latter half of last year. The outturn marginally exceeded market expectations but was comfortably below the 27 percent forecast made by the CBI last month.
Sales for the time of a year, a key indicator of underlying developments, rose from minus 5 percent in mid-quarter to 1 percent but the 3-month average for the headline index, the best guide to current trends, dropped from 34 percent to 19 percent.
The CBI forecast its sales index at 21 percent in April, a 3 percentage point increase from its quarter-end outturn and reflective of the expectations for healthy economic growth and further gains in real incomes and employment. There is little correlation between the CBI's sales index and actual official sales on a monthly basis but the survey can provide a useful insight into broader shifts in spending.
This survey was first introduced in 1983 and is an indicator of short-term trends in the UK retail and wholesale distribution sector. The quarterly and monthly surveys both cover volume of sales, orders on suppliers, sales for the time of year and stocks, while the quarterly survey also covers imports, selling prices, numbers employed, investment and business situation. Both monthly and quarterly surveys now contain questions on current and expected internet sales and average prices for internet goods.
This survey is a leading indicator of consumer spending because retailer and wholesaler sales are directly influenced by consumer buying levels. The monthly update provides a vital update on volume of sales, orders and stocks. Like the industrial survey, it carries significant weight in the formulation of economic policy at the Bank of England and within government as a highly respected barometer of high street trade. It is considered to be an advance indicator of retail sales although it is not well correlated with the official data on a monthly basis.
Monthly and quarterly
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