Colm Kelpie: We've said goodbye to bust, but we're not booming yet
Published 01/03/2014 | 02:30
SHOPS aren't quite booming but the bust is behind us.
The latest retail sales figures show we've loosened our belts a little but not quite as much as the headline figures suggest.
Car sales are driving the retail rebound, but some of those big buys may very well be built on the financing arrangements that are now being offered by car dealers. In other words, people are borrowing to spend.
Stripping out the motor trade brings the annual increase in sales to much more ordinary levels. And when you bore deeper into the figures and look at the value of sales instead of the volume, you get a slightly less rosy picture.
The value of retail sales, when cars are excluded, only grew by 0.9pc over the year, while volume rose 2.7pc. This suggests that retailers are still being forced to cut prices to woo wary shoppers through their doors.
Sales of clothing and footwear are still down, as is business in specialist food stores and book shops.
Furniture and lighting sales enjoyed one of the biggest increases in terms of both volume and value. This may reflect necessity on the part of householders after years of simply making do and not replacing big-ticket items in the home.
So is the retail rebound artificial or is consumer spending recovering? Perhaps it depends where you are living.
Property specialists report a retail recovery is under way in the capital. Big-brand stores like Levi's, Cath Kidston, Ecco, Massimo Dutti and FLY London have all taken up space in the Grafton Street area.
But outside Dublin, the reality for many retailers remains challenging.
Still, the big picture is that while the sector is far from booming, the worst appears to be over.