UK retail sales volumes rose by 1.2 per cent between July and August, according to data from the Office of National Statistics - a number that was greeted with scepticism by some economists.

According to the ONS, strength in sales of clothing and footwear drove sales higher. However, the data are inconsistent with surveys from the CBI and the Bank of England’s own monthly Agents’ survey, along with anecdotal evidence from individual retailers most of whom say they are struggling. The ONS itself notes that retail sales data can be very volatile.

In the three months to August, the retail sales index actually fell by 0.8 per cent, but the ONS cautioned against reading too much into the drop because a record increase in sales in May had inflated average sales in the May to July three-month period.

“These numbers are still puzzlingly strong compared to the much gloomier message coming from the retail surveys, consumer confidence figures and anecdotal evidence,” said Jonathan Loynes, economist at Capital Economics. “”As such we suspect that the (Bank of England’s) Monetary Policy Committee will treat them with a pinch of slat when considering the overall strength of the household sector.”

According to the official data, non-store retailing and repair, a category which includes internet sales, rose by 0.8 per cent in the three months to August, despite the strong rise in May and has remained consistently the category demonstrating the strongest growth rate since March for rolling three month periods.

The sales index for the food and predominantly non-food retailing fell by 1.3 and 0.7 per cent respectively for the three months to August, albeit with the ONS caveat about strong sales in May..

Among non-food stores, sales of textile, clothing and footwear in the three months to August were 1.1 per cent higher than in the previous three month period. Household goods were 2.2 per cent lower in the three months to August than in the three months to July and were 0.6 per cent lower than those of the three months to August 2007.

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