A UK retail sales index fell for the first time in three months in May and stores expect growth to slow in June, the Confederation of British Industry said.
Retailers saying sales volumes increased from a year ago outnumbered those reporting declines by 18 percentage points, compared with 21 points in April, the London-based business lobby said in a report. A separate quarterly index showed the pace of selling-price inflation dropped from a 20-year high.
UK consumer confidence fell in April and unemployment claims rose at their fastest rate in 15 months, underlining the fragility of the recovery as government spending cuts and quickening inflation sap household finances. The economy stagnated in the half-year through March and Bank of England officials said this month that an interest-rate increase now could damp consumer spending.
"High street sales growth is subdued and is likely to remain sluggish for some time," John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said in a statement. "Household budgets are being persistently squeezed by the gap between price inflation and weak wage growth."
The slowdown in growth in May was led by big-ticket retailers such as household-goods stores, where a "sharp fall in sales gained pace," the CBI said. An overall expectations gauge for June indicated stores expect sales growth to slow.
Marks & Spencer Group plc, the UK's largest clothing retailer, said that the short-term outlook for the economy remains challenging. A squeeze on consumers' incomes and rising commodity prices mean the UK's largest clothing retailer is "cautious" about prospects.
While an index of selling prices for the quarter through May fell to 63 from a two-decade high of 73 in the three months through February, annual growth is still at a rate "not seen since the early 1990s," the CBI said. Retailers anticipate little change in price inflation in June, the lobby group said.
Demand on suppliers climbed this month, with an index of orders rising to six from zero in April, while a gauge of the volume of stocks in relation to expected demand surged to its highest since 1984.
A quarterly measure of retailers' business situation rose 4 points to minus 2.