Irish retail sales enjoy surge

Retail sales surged in April at their fastest rate for over 14 years, the first very strong evidence that confidence is returning to the Main Street.

Economists said they may upgrade their forecasts for economic growth this year on the back of the figures.

Excluding motor sales, the volume of retail sales rose by 3.1% in April from March, the fastest monthly increase since January 2001, and climbed by 7.8% in the year, the CSO figures showed.

But sales increases were still not broadly spread across the economy, with five of 13 retail sectors recording declines, analysts said. But department stores’ sales surged by 11.6%, and sales of food, beverages and tobacco and ‘other’ retail sectors rose by 4.8% and 4%.

The figures will provide additional confidence to the Coalition as it prepares for its budget in October. The Department of Finance will release its up-to-date tax revenues next week.

The volume figures are the most accurate way of measuring retail sales because they extract the effects of discounting by hard-pressed retailers and price increases by other retailers that are doing much better.

But retail sales by value, excluding motor sales, also posted increases, by 2.6% in the month and by 4% in the year. Total retail sales by volume, including motor sales which continue to be skewed towards the first half of the year, also registered large gains, with increases of 0.5% in the month and 11.9% in the year.

“Irish retail sales data for April point towards a sharp step-up in consumer spending of late,” said Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Bank Ireland.

“Along with strong jobs data and buoyant exports this suggests that our expectations for 2015, both in terms of a 2% increase in consumer spending and a 4% rise in Irish GDP, may need to be revised upwards, perhaps by about 0.5% in both instances,” he said.

Retailers had “a great month” in April, but sales remain much lower than before the slump, said Thomas Burke, director of industry body Retail Ireland.

The CSO figures showed that the volume of sales in motor trades in the three months to the end of April climbed 24.8% from the same period a year earlier. Sales of furniture and lighting increased almost 17% during the same period, while bar sales rose by a modest 1.6%.

Sales of books, newspapers and stationery during the same three months fell 2.3% from a year earlier.

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