January 25, 2019 / 11:04 AM / 7 months ago

UK retail sales steady in Jan after weak Christmas, big picture weak: CBI

FILE PHOTO: An illuminated sale sign is seen on the exterior of the Harrods department store in London, Britain, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON, (Reuters) - - British retail sales stagnated in January following a sharp fall in December, according to an industry survey on Friday that underlined tough trading conditions for retailers ahead of Brexit.

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) monthly retail sales balance rose to zero from -13 in December. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a reading of +2.

Despite the improvement in January, the survey largely fitted with signs that consumer spending has weakened since mid-2018, when the soccer World Cup and warm weather fueled expenditure. Brexit has also hit consumer confidence.

Despite the limited time left before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, there is no agreement in London on how it should exit the world’s biggest trading bloc, and a growing chance of a ‘no-deal’ exit with no provision to soften the economic shock.

The CBI said it saw signs that some wholesalers were stockpiling goods in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

“The High Street has had another challenging month, with retail sales volumes flat and well below average for the time year,” CBI economist Rain Newton-Smith said.

“Pressures on the retail sector remain high, with consumer spending expected to remain fairly subdued and competition fierce.”

Retail sales growth in the three months to January was the slowest since the three months to May 2018.

Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken

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