London: British retail sales fell for the first time in three and a half years during October as consumers tightened their belts in a sagging economy, while the number of house sales in England and Wales dropped to a record low, surveys found on Tuesday.
Both were tokens of Britain’s slide into what forecasters say will be a recession.
In its monthly survey, the British Retail Consortium said total retail sales fell 0.1% in October from a year earlier, the first such fall since April 2005, when comparisons were distorted by the timing of Easter. In September, total sales were up an annual 1.0%.
The BRC said like-for-like sales, which strip out new stores and space, fell by 2.2% in the year to October, the seventh fall in the last eight months and the worst performance since May 2005.
“These are seriously poor numbers, especially in the run-up to Christmas,” said Stephen Robertson, the BRC’s director-general.
A more detailed look at the BRC survey, which was conducted in the four weeks to 1 November and covers 60% of British retailing, shows that food and drink was the only sector to report sales signficantly up on a year ago. Clothing and footwear sales were particularly bad and heavily discounted despite colder and much wetter weather in Britain than the previous year.
In separate news, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said its survey of around 300 surveyor-real estate agents around England and Wales showed the average number of house sales in the three months to October fell to a new low as a lack of mortgage finance stifled potential buyers.
RICS said the number of transactions per member estate agent during the period fell to 10.9, its lowest level since comparable records began in 1978. The worst hit area was London where they were reporting only six sales per surveyor the last three months.
RICS is hopeful sales will pick up in the coming months as sellers accept the market realities and drop their asking prices, and mortgage lenders pass on last week’s startling 1.50 percentage point interest rate cut from the Bank of England.
With housing transactions at such a low level, RICS said 81.8% more of its members reported house price falls in the three months to October than rises, a slight improvement on the 84.5% negative balance in September.