Retail sales increase make British rise likely

UK high street spending remained firm in March, with retail sales rising a higher than expected 0.6% from February, the British Office of National Statistics said.

UK high street spending remained firm in March, with retail sales rising a higher than expected 0.6% from February, the British Office of National Statistics said.

On a year-on-year basis, retail sales grew 6.4%, higher than economists' expectations of a 6.1% rise.

The data will be seen as making another rise in British interest rates even more likely when the Bank of England meets next month, as it seeks to slow down the rate of growth of consumption in the economy.

The rise in retail sales last month reflected increases in all sectors with sales at food stores up 0.2% in March, down slightly on the 0.3% growth seen in February.

Non-food stores were buoyant with sales up 0.9% in March compared with the 0.3% decline registered in February.

Looking at longer-term trends, retail sales in the three months to March rose an adjusted 1.9% on the previous three months, for a 6.6% increase on the same period a year ago.

The UK economy grew by less than expected in the first quarter of 2004 as the struggling manufacturing sector remained in the doldrums, official figures showed today.

The Office of National Statistics said British GDP grew by only 0.6% in the first quarter, below expectations of 0.8% and after 0.9% growth in the final three months of last year.

The slowdown was due mainly to a decline in manufacturing output, though service industry growth was 0.8%. The overall growth figure was slightly lower than analysts' expectations.

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