Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 12:00 UK

Record decline in eurozone sales

A mannequin inside a shop window
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania saw the largest falls in retail sales figures

Retail sales in countries using the euro have fallen by a record amount over the last 12 months according to the EU's official statistics agency.

Eurostat's figures show High Street sales were down 4.2% between March 2008 and 2009.

Across the whole of the European Union, retail sales fell 3.1% over the year, underlining the weakness in consumer demand.

Analysts say it is hard to see any improvement before the end of 2009.

"I think it is another disappointing reading," said Juergen Michels, economist, Citigroup.

"It all suggests that the increase in unemployment and the loss in the consumers' wealth position are likely to be a drag for consumption activity for a while."

Overall trend negative

Official unemployment figures show 20 million people are currently out of work in the EU.

That is 8.9% of the population who are eligible to work, up from 8.7% in February.

Eurostat's figures show retail sales for March 2009 were down 0.6% in the eurozone countries bringing the total decline for the year to 4.2%.

"I don't think these numbers are necessarily a huge surprise," said Nick Kounis an economist from Fortis.

"The overall trend for retail sales is clearly negative."

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia saw the biggest drops in their annual retail figures.

They are down 27.3% in Latvia, 21.1% in Lithuania and by 16.6% in Estonia.

But volumes of trade rose in Belgium, Austria and the United Kingdom.

They were up 2.1% in Belgium, 2.0% in Austria and 0.8% in the United Kingdom.

"It highlights considerable differences in the retail sector performance across different countries," according to Jorg Radeke an analyst at the Centre for Economic and Business Research.

"These differences continue to cause considerable challenges for finding a common monetary and fiscal policy approach," he said.

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