Coronavirus brings UK retailers worst month since 2008 - CBI

LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - British retailers suffered their biggest fall in sales since the 2008 financial crisis in the first half of this month as the coronavirus hit demand and forced store closures, the Confederation of British Industry said on Tuesday.

The CBI distributive trades survey’s retail sales balance dropped to -55 in April from -3 in March, matching the series’ record low set in December 2008 - and the expected reading for May is a record low -54.

“The lockdown is hitting retailers hard. Two fifths have shut up shop completely for now,” CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said.

Two thirds of all retailers said the coronavirus had hurt sales, and 44% said they had laid off staff temporarily, while 8% had made permanent job cuts.

While supermarkets had benefited from consumer stockpiling in March, this effect faded in early April, the CBI said.

“Sales of groceries and other essentials also fell, suggesting households may have been dipping into stockpiles built up prior to the lockdown or tightening their belts more generally as incomes take a hit,” Newton-Smith said.

Official retail sales data for March - which largely covered the period before Britain’s lockdown started on March 23 - showed the sharpest annual fall on record, with sales volumes down by 5.8% year-on-year.

The British Retail Consortium said spending at its members dropped by more than a quarter in the first two weeks of the lockdown.

The CBI survey was conducted between March 27 and April 15, and is based on responses from 70 retail chains. (Reporting by David Milliken)