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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 15:34 GMT
UK shoppers set to carry on spending
Marks & Spencer store
M&S is expected to report strong Christmas sales
Sentiment among British consumers is continuing to rise, a European Commission survey has said.

The Consumer Confidence Barometer, compiled for the EC by research group Martin Hamblin GfK, found that confidence increased in December for the second month in a row.

The study also found that people's expectations for the economy, and for their own finances, have risen.

The survey's findings follow reports of buoyant trade at the start of the Christmas sales period.

Many of the main UK shopping centres have seen huge numbers flocking to the stores, and many High Street stores are expected to report healthy Christmas trading figures.

Spark back in Marks?

Marks & Spencer is one of the High Street names which is thought to have had a bumper Christmas.

Press reports at the weekend suggested the retailer would report seasonal sales figures demonstrating it was now firmly back on track.

If sales are as strong as expected, it would cap a good year for the retail giant whose share price nearly doubled this year, making it the best performer among the FTSE 100 league of top London-listed companies.

Credit card
Credit card borrowing is on the increase

The launch of the M&S Per Una range, designed by former Next guru George Davies, was well received.

But M&S is not alone in having enjoyed a strong Christmas period, with the department store group Debenhams and music chain HMV among the companies reported to have seen healthy sales figures.

Data from Footfall Index, which monitors the number of people going to the country's biggest shopping centres, found that visitor numbers last Thursday were up more than 10% on the same day last year.

Consumers upbeat

The enthusiasm with which UK consumers have hit the shops this Christmas suggests confidence remains high.

This backed up by the latest Consumer Confidence Barometer, compiled for the EU, which showed the headline confidence index rising to -1 in December, from -3 in November.

And within the data there were signs that the current spending spree could continue.

People's view of the state of their finances over the coming year improved three points to +12.

Meanwhile consumers appear much more reluctant to save given the current low interest rates.

Their perceptions of the benefits of saving dropped four points to -8 in December - the lowest score since the survey began in 1982.

Into the red?

Some observers have expressed concern that some people could be overstretching themselves financially, and taking on too much debt because of the current cheap cost of borrowing.

Figures from the British Bankers' Association on Monday showed that credit card borrowing rose at its highest rate for nearly a year in November.

Although spending on credit cards was slightly lower than October's figure, the amount of money being repaid slowed as people prepared for the Christmas spree.

The seasonally adjusted rise in credit card debt was 329m, the biggest increase since May 2000.

Discount beer

Meanwhile bargain hunters hitting the sales this week have been offered an alternative to the normal discounts.

The pub chain JD Wetherspoon is holding its own January sale, and is offering the thirsty shopper beer for just 50p a pint.

More than 100,000 pints will be sold for 50p on January the 2nd, and the price of other drinks will also be cut.

"Department stores and shops hold their sales in January, so I thought it would be a good idea to have one in our pubs too," said the chain's chairman Tim Martin.

See also:

27 Dec 01 | Business
Christmas sales offer economy hopes
27 Dec 01 | Business
Sales shoppers cautiously upbeat
25 Sep 01 | Business
Why consumer confidence matters
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