UK retail sales stronger than expected in March

British retail sales edged up unexpectedly in March, official data showed on Friday, suggesting consumers are still at the forefront of Britain's strong economic recovery.

Retail sales volumes rose 0.1 percent on the month to show 4.2 percent growth on the year, the Office for National Statistics said.

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Economists taking part in a Reuters poll had expected retail sales to slip 0.4 percent on the month, owing in part to the Easter holidays falling in April this year, and after strong growth of 1.3 percent in February, which was downwardly revised.

The economists had expected sales to be 3.8 percent higher on the year.

The ONS said the strong year-on-year figure may partly reflect the very cold weather in March of 2013. Non-food stores saw the highest year-on-year increase in sales in nearly 12 years, up 9.6 percent.

Sales at food and non-store retailers fell in March from February.

Consumers, many of them buoyed by a strengthening housing market, have so far been the main driving force behind Britain's rapid economic recovery.

And although household income has been squeezed by slow wage growth and high inflation in recent years, data last week showed average weekly earnings poised to overtake price growth, easing the pressure on living standards.

Friday's data showed prices of retail goods fell 0.5 percent in March, the biggest decline since September 2009, driven by falling fuel prices.

Overall, the figures suggested Britain's economy is on course to record robust economic growth in the first quarter. The Bank of England this week bumped up its estimate for growth during the period to 1.0 percent.

A first reading of British gross domestic product in the January-March period is due to be announced on April 29.

BoE policymakers have stressed that for the recovery to be sustainable it needs to be broadened out by exports and investment.

A separate survey from the British Retail Consortium on Thursday showed the later-than-usual Easter helped boost retail sales in April after a weak March.

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