Average May for retailers, but sentiment deteriorates on weaker outlook
Retailers reported average sales for the time of year in May but expect them to dip below seasonal norms again next month, according to the CBI’s latest quarterly Distributive Trades Survey. Year-on-year selling prices continued to grow at a similarly rapid pace to February, though retailers expect price growth to ease slightly in the coming quarter.
Sentiment in the retail sector deteriorated at its quickest pace since November 2020. Investment intentions for the year ahead stand at their weakest level since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.
The key survey findings included:
- Retail sales were average for the time of year in May (0% from -24% in April) but are expected to be below seasonal norms next month (-13%). However, wholesalers (+41% from +39%) and motor traders (+19% from -35%) both reported sales as good for the time of year in May.
- Year-on-year retail sales were broadly flat (-1% from -35% in April) and are expected to fall at a modest pace next month (-4%).
- Retailers expect their business situation to deteriorate in the next three months (-13%), marking the quickest fall in sentiment since November 2020.
- Retailers anticipate less capital spending in the next 12 months compared to the past 12 (-34%) – the weakest investment intentions since May 2020.
- Average selling prices grew at a similarly rapid pace to February (+77% from +75%). Retailers expect price growth to ease somewhat next quarter (+69%).
- Stock volumes in relation to expected demand rose above adequate in May (+11% from -9%), with a further rise expected next month (+16%).
- Internet sales volumes in the year to May fell at the quickest rate on record (-59% – question first asked in August 2009). The rate of decline is expected to ease next month (-54%), although this remains rapid in historical terms.
This survey included 126 companies, including 56 retailers.
Martin Sartorius, principal economist at the CBI, said: “Despite retail sales returning to their average for the time of year in May, the outlook for the sector has worsened due to high inflation and broader economic uncertainty. As a result, retailers are reining in their investment plans for the year ahead to the greatest extent since May 2020.
“Government action to ensure the economic security of the poorest households and support the investment ambitions of retailers will be crucial to ensure the longer-term prosperity of the UK economy and society.”