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U.K. Retail Sales Decline for Second Month on Clothing, BRC Says

U.K. retail sales fell for a second month in February as a drop in purchases of clothing countered gains at food stores, the British Retail Consortium said.

Sales at stores open at least 12 months, measured by value, fell 0.3 percent from a year earlier, the London-based trade group said in an e-mailed report today. That followed a 0.3 percent decline in January, the second worst for that month since the survey began in 1995.

The Bank of England is counting on slowing inflation to ease the squeeze on consumers and help generate a pickup in consumer spending later this year. Any recovery in demand may be curbed by rising unemployment and an increase in oil prices that is increasing the cost of gasoline.

“The reality of weak sales shows that a convincing revival remains illusory,” BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said in a statement. “Unemployment is expected to rise further, causing increased nervousness about job security, which is keeping confidence fragile. Any sense of improving optimism is not yet translating into more spending.”

Including stores open less than 12 months, the value of retail sales rose 2.3 percent in February from a year earlier, according to the BRC report. In the three months through February, food sales increased 1.9 percent on the year, while non-food sales fell 0.3 percent.

The BRC said food sales were boosted by households “stocking up” during cold weather in February, while clothing sales weakened due to “consumer caution.”

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