U.K. retail sales rose 3.6 percent in December as consumers celebrated the end of a tough year of recession by splurging on food and drink, official data showed Friday.
The figures, however, were less bullish than some industry reports and surveys had suggested.
The Office for National Statistics said the value of retail sales in stores dealing mainly in food was 4.9 percent higher than a year earlier, while spending in nonfood stores was up 1.6 percent. By volume, food stores posted a 2.8 percent gain while nonfood store sales were up 0.7 percent.
Internet sales accounted for 4.9 percent of total spending, the agency said.
Analysts said U.K. inflation figures released on Tuesday, which showed a 2.9 percent jump in the consumer price index in December, suggested that retailers did not resort to the early, deep discounting of a year ago.
There was also some evidence that consumers made some purchases in December to beat a rise in sales tax in the new year.
Analysts said they had been hoping for a stronger rise considering the upbeat statements by individual retailers.
Earlier this week, the British Retail Consortium hailed December as the best in at least seven years, with sales volume up 12 percent in central London. For the country as a whole, the BRC reported sales were up 4.2 percent.
"December's modest rise in UK retail sales is disappointing given the far more upbeat tone of the surveys and trading updates" from shops, said Jonathan Loynes at Capital Economics.
"They're clearly a timely reminder that, with a fiscal squeeze looming and renewed falls in house prices and employment potentially on the cards, consumers shouldn't be relied on to drive a strong economic recovery," Loynes said.
Separately, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported Friday that the British motor industry finished the year with a flourish, with car production up 59 percent over the previous December, though full-year production was down 31 percent.
Vehicle production rose in all categories in December: cars for home sales rose 157 percent, cars for export were up 43 percent; commercial vehicle was up nearly 16 percent, the first gain reported in 2009.
"We expect the year ahead to be extremely challenging, but the return of economic growth and a competitive exchange rate will help U.K producers, " said Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
However, the government-backed incentive program which offered discounts of 2,000 pounds ($3,300) to new-car buyers who traded in a car more than 10 years old, is expected to run out in February, the Society said.
"Car and commercial vehicle production remain well below pre-recession levels and it is essential that there continues to be a focus on creating more and better priced finance for businesses and consumers," Everitt said.
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