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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Retail picture improves in March
Shoppers in London
The cold weather has hurt some retailers but helped others
Retail sales picked up last month, official figures show, with the High Street beginning to shrug off the effects of a weak start to the year.

Sales rose 0.7% in March, the Office for National Statistics said, an improvement on the 0.3% rise in February and 1.7% decline in January.

On a three-monthly basis, the weak January figures led to a 0.7% fall against the last three months of 2005.

General merchandise sales were strong, but DIY and electrical were weak.

Cold weather

Compared to a year ago, total sales were 2.5% higher in March, adjusted for this year's late Easter.

Retailers are slowly recovering from a poor start to the year after an initially strong New Year sales season fizzled out.

As a result, first quarter sales figures compare unfavourably to the last three months of 2005, when sales picked up in the run-up to Christmas.

February's sales have also been revised downwards from a 0.5% to a 0.3% increase.

The initial indications are that consumer activity was relatively lacklustre over Easter
Howard Archer, Global Insight

Lower than normal temperatures in March hit DIY firms and some clothes retailers, but boosted food stores.

On a three-monthly basis, food stores recorded 0.1% growth up to and including March while non-food outlets saw a 1.4% decline.

"Retail sales picked up more than expected in March, which along with the current strength in the housing market, boosts hopes that the consumer is still alive, if not exactly kicking," said Howard Archer, an economist with Global Insight.

Despite this improvement, Mr Archer said the last three months had been tough for many retailers.

"The initial indications are that consumer activity was relatively lacklustre over Easter," he added.




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