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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK
UK sales freeze amid late Easter
Sales signs in London shops
Shops have been forced to cut prices to drive sales
UK retail sales in March fell at their fastest rate since last July as the cold weather and late Easter hit trade.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said March's like-for-like sales were down 1.4% compared with a year ago.

It added that even if the effect of the late Easter was excluded the underlying trend would be flat. In the three-month period from January sales grew 0.3%

The BRC said that March's "unseasonably cold weather" had discouraged people from buying spring and summer outfits.

BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: "The probability is that, after adjusting for the timing of Easter, the underlying trend in like-for-like sales is, at best, flat.

"Although the housing market has been talked up for the past few months, none of this has, as yet, fed through to the DIY sector.

"Nor is there any sign of the Bank of England's expected growth in consumer spending."

Spending slowdown

UK retailers have been suffering recently as consumers keep a tighter grip on their purse strings amid rising household debt, rising taxes and higher energy bills.

Last month fashion retailer Next said sales in the first seven weeks of this year sank 8.9%.

Meanwhile B&Q owner Kingfisher blamed a downturn in UK spending for its profits being slashed by almost half.

However analysts warned against giving too much weight to the BRC figures, as they had been distorted by the later timing of Easter.

"A truer picture of retail sales will be seen once we can assess March and April's figures together," KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said.

"In the meantime, it has to be hoped that people understand the background to these figures and that the slight optimism which has started to build in recent months is not allowed to wither."


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