UK retail sales rebound after record slump

LONDON (AFP) – United Kingdom (UK) retail sales rebounded 12 per cent in May as some shops reopened, having slumped a record 18 per cent in April after the country entered coronavirus lockdown, official data showed yesterday.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revealed that total government debt rose to more than Britain’s entire economic output for the first time since 1963, as the Treasury sought to keep millions of workers in their jobs.

Yesterday’s figures come a day after the Bank of England said it would provide further cash stimulus worth GBP100 billion to prop up Britain’s coronavirus-hit economy – on top of the GBP200 billion already announced.

“Retail sales volumes partly rebounded in May… but sales were still down by 13.1 per cent on February before the impact of the coronavirus,” the ONS said yesterday.

“Non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in May,” led by a 42-per cent surge in sales across household goods shops.

Britain went into lockdown on March 23, but this week the government allowed non-essential shops, such as clothing stores, to reopen.

A surge in online shopping during the lockdown also helped retailers to recover in May, but the sector and overall economy remains shattered by the fallout from COVID-19.

“Naturally, spending on goods will recover faster than on services, which usually require human contact and remain largely unavailable,” noted Chief UK Economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Samuel Tombs.

The nation’s debt mountain meanwhile grew last month to GBP1.95 trillion, or 100.9 per cent of Britain’s gross domestic product.

That compared with 97.7 per cent in April, with multi billion-pound government help to pay the wages of 9.1 million people tipping the level above 100 per cent.

Furloughing, which backs up 80 per cent of salaries but is set to end in October, is expected to cost about GBP60 billion, according to government estimates.

The ONS yesterday added that the government deficit for the current financial year hit a record GBP55.2 billion in May.