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Retail spending stalled in December, Barclays finds

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The latest data from Barclays has shown that whilst consumer card spending grew 2.3% year-on-year in December, driven by hospitality and leisure, spending on essential items and clothing slowed.

The bank noted that retail spending struggled to maintain the momentum it had built up in November through early seasonal discounts, while entertainment and travel thrived as consumers booked experiences and getaways for 2024.

Spending on essential items slowed, rising just 1.8% compared to 3.3% in November, as falling petrol prices continued to impact fuel spending (-12.5%). Meanwhile, the deceleration in food price inflation meant supermarket shopping saw its lowest uplift (2.8%) since September 2022. Barclays said this could also be due to shoppers already having stocked up on festive food and drink in November, taking advantage of early supermarket discounts and deals.

Furthermore, both clothing and department stores fell back into decline (-2.0% and -0.2% respectively), after witnessing a spike in November.

Karen Johnson, head of retail at Barclays, said: “Grocery and retail spending didn’t see as much of an increase as we might have expected during the height of the festive season. This is likely due to many retailers and supermarkets starting discounts and promotional activity earlier than usual, meaning that many Brits had been making the most of these deals and completed most of their Christmas shopping by December.

“While the upcoming energy price cap is weighing on people’s minds, the falling rate of inflation offers a glimmer of positivity and it is encouraging to see the nation’s optimism increase slightly as we head into a new year.”

However, Friday 22 December was especially busy and saw Barclays set an all-time record for transactions processed per-second. This could be as a result of people celebrated finishing work for the year in pubs and bars, and those seeking out last-minute gifts. Retail and food & drink transaction volumes were up 66.8% and 38.1% respectively in comparison to the average day in 2023.

Supermarket transactions also peaked on Saturday 23 December, representing a 41.8% increase compared to the year’s daily average.

Jack Meaning, chief UK economist at Barclays, added: “We saw inflation fall significantly at the end of 2023, and we expect it to fall further in the opening months of 2024. This puts more spending power in the pockets of UK consumers and should help support them to continue to spend, even against the tough backdrop of weak economic growth.

”It’s also encouraging to see tentative signs of an improving mortgage market; approvals have begun to rise and mortgage rates are continuing to fall. However, it’s worth remembering that many people this year will still be dropping off of fixed-term mortgages onto new deals with higher rates than they had previously, eating away at some of their newly found spending power.” 


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