Mixed news for the economy

There is mixed news for the economy. Retail sales for last month rose by 1.9% compared to March last year and there was an 0.8% in factory output for February. But the UK's trade deficit widened, mainly caused by a 1.1% fall in exports.

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Mixed results for UK manufacturing and exports

The UK's hopes of avoiding a return to recession remain in the balance after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released mixed figures on manufacturing and exports.

A general view of Southampton Docks as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released mixed figures on manufacturing and exports. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Economists were cheered by a month-on-month improvement of 0.8% in factory output for February, reversing some of the 1.9% slide in January.

But separate figures from the ONS also showed a widening in the UK's trade deficit, largely due to a 1.1% fall in exports amid weaker demand from the beleaguered eurozone.

The UK will duck its third recession since the start of the financial crisis if GDP figures on 25th April avoid a second quarter in a row of contraction.

Hope 'positive bounce can continue across the country'

Easter distortions aside, the three-month average figures paint a positive picture and show the highest like-for-like sales increases since December 2009.

On the back of strong January and February results, this may be the beginning of a positive trend and will be welcomed by many retailers.

With Easter falling early this year, the April sales comparatives will be negatively affected but it is hoped that the positive bounce of the first quarter of 2013 can continue to be felt across the country, buoyed by the opening of new shopping centres in cities such as Leeds.

– David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG

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'Encouraging start to 2013' for British retailers

This is a positive result, which rounds off a first quarter of cautious optimism for many retailers.

Easter fell in March this year but April in 2012, which helps this year's figures, especially for items which tend to sell well over the long weekend like food and homewares.

But even if we strip out the data for the last week of March, performances are encouraging, considering the weather impact.

Snow and the prolonged cold were not ideal but not a disaster.

They brought mixed fortunes for different categories.

Food was boosted by a continued appetite for hearty meals and ‘wintry' fare such as roasts and chocolate.

But demand was cool for new season clothing and footwear lines, resulting in a decline for both categories.

2013 has got off to an encouraging start for the market as a whole. Retailers are now hoping for a boost in consumer confidence and the general mood to lift performance across all, not just some sectors, as we head into the second quarter. Getting a bit of sunshine, at long last, might help that along!"

– Helen Dickinson, Director General, British Retail Consortium

Retail rise as poor weather hinders fashion sales

According to the British Retail Consortium UK retail sales rose by 1.9% on a like-for-like basis from March 2012.

Unseasonable weather hindered fashion sales. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Growth is inflated by the timing of Easter, which fell in March this year but in April last year, but unseasonable weather hindered fashion categories.

Adjusted for Shop Price Index inflation at 1.4% in March, total retail sales values grew 2.3% in real terms.

Online sales were up 6.6%.

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