UK retailers turn positive on sales hopes after bleak winter

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - British retailers reported their first positive sales expectations in seven months, according to a survey published by the Confederation of British Industry on Monday, adding to other recent signs of recovery in the economy.

The CBI's (CBI) expected sales balance for April increased to +9 from -18 in March. Apart from September's reading of +31, the gauge of sales expectations has been negative in every month since May of last year.

Sales in March were reported roughly flat at +1, little changed from February's reading of +2. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a reading of -6.

Consumers have been hit hard by an inflation rate that remains about 10%, plus rising interest rates and the prospect of higher taxes.

"It's encouraging that activity in the retail sector showed signs of stabilising after a challenging winter," CBI Principal Economist Martin Sartorius said.

"This resilience has helped inspire some spring shoots of optimism, with firms expecting an increase in sales for the first time since last September."

Sartorius said finance minister Jeremy Hunt's decision to increase support for occupational health and expand childcare provision would help address some of the labour shortages that retailers face but did not go far enough.

"In particular, more will need to be done to tackle retailers' ongoing skills gaps," he said

Reporting by William Schomberg Editing by William James

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