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UK retail sales logged their biggest quarterly decline in seven years as high inflation curbed consumer spending at the start of the year.
The retail sales volume decreased 1.4 percent sequentially in the first quarter, the most since early 2010, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed Friday. Sales had increased 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.
In March alone, retail sales including automotive fuel decreased 1.8 percent, reversing a 1.7 percent rise in February. Sales were forecast to fall moderately by 0.5 percent.
March's drop in retail sales suggests that the consumer spending slowdown is gathering pace and adds to other evidence indicating that the economic recovery has slowed since the end of last year, Ruth Gregory, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
With credit conditions remaining supportive, and consumers' confidence in the outlook for their own finances still quite strong, the economist still expects overall household spending to slow this year, rather than collapse outright.
The decline in March sales seems to be a consequence of price increases across a whole range of sectors, ONS statistician Kate Davies said.
Data showed that retail prices increased 3.3 percent year-on-year in March, the biggest in five years, as the largest contribution to growth came from petrol stations.
Clothing and footwear sales slid 0.9 percent and food sales dropped 0.5 percent. At the same time, auto fuel sales plunged 4.6 percent.
Excluding auto fuel, retail sales volume declined 1.5 percent, in contrast to a 1.6 percent rise a month ago and bigger than the expected 0.5 percent drop.
On a yearly basis, growth in retail sales volume eased more-than-expected to 1.7 percent from 3.7 percent. Economists had forecast a 3.3 percent increase.
Excluding auto fuel, retail sales grew 2.6 percent, slower than February's 4.1 percent increase and the expected 3.8 percent.