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Festive sales slide 4pc during icy weather

BAD weather was bad news for retailers in December as consumers spent 4pc less than last Christmas.

Toys, gifts and fuel sales all took a particular hit as snow and ice kept consumers at home.

The drop in spending capped a difficult year, with the volume of sales also down 3.1pc compared with December 2009.

Fuel sales were the worst affected, falling over 21pc compared with last December as people avoided taking their cars out on icy roads.

However, the "other" category, which includes toys, jewellery and mobile phones, also fell by 5.4pc from November and 10pc since the previous December.

Clothes and food sales each fell by 1.3pc, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show. However bar sales bucked the trend, rising by 2.1pc in the month, with anecdotal evidence suggesting a notable pick-up as the thaw set in, Ulster Bank analysts noted.

Overall, retail sales fell 1.1pc in volume compared to November and were 0.9pc lower in value. For the year as a whole, retail sales were down 0.9pc by volume and 2pc by value.

IBEC's Retail Ireland said that the year had ended on a bad note and was the third year in a row that business was down, with a cumulative decline of over 20pc in the value of retail sales, even though the costs of running a shop hadn't fallen.

"Sales will probably fall for some time to come but there may be some grounds to hope that the retail sector will bottom out in 2011," said its director Torlach Denihan.

However, IBEC economist Reetta Suonpera said that because the weather was so exceptional, the December figures gave no useful indication of the underlying trend or consumers' reaction to the Budget.

However, for 2010 as a whole, sales had fallen far less than in in 2009 and, without the bad weather, would have been better still, she said.

Davy analyst Conall MacCoille says that the poor sales figures "indicate that the strength in the export sector is not yet translating into consumer spending".

Department stores had performed strongly, with sales up 8.9pc in the final three months of the year, while electrical sales were up nearly 5pc.

Irish Independent