Signs of recovery as retail sales and jobs on the rise
MAIN Street is finally recovering with retailers reporting the first major signs of consistent sales and job creation since before the crash.
Town centres left decimated during the recession are now enjoying a fresh lease of life with vibrant new businesses replacing empty storefronts.
With unemployment falling, consumer confidence rising and hopes of the best economic growth for a decade, Ireland's long-suffering retail sector is poised to enjoy its best year of trade since 2007.
The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) said that disposable income has increased by €13 per month amongst all adults and by €20 per month among working adults – compared to April 2013.
Central Statistics Office (CSO) trade figures showed retail sales continuing to increase over most sectors.
Sales were up in February by 4.9pc over the same month in 2013. Sales are now expected to increase in March by 5pc over the same month last year.
Chambers of Commerce Ireland said that, for the first time in years, there is genuine cause for optimism.
Cork Business Association (CBA) official James O'Sullivan said the crucial factor was consumer confidence. After six years of economic fear, people were slowly relaxing their purse-strings.
"People won't spend money if they are afraid of the future. I know there are controversies over property tax and water charges, but I think a lot of people are much more confident about where their finances will be in 12 or 18 months' time," he said.
It has been a rollercoaster few years for retailers, as sales plunged a startling 24.5pc in January 2009, as the scale of the economic crisis began to hit home.
Davy and Goodbody analysts pointed out that a further encouraging sign for the Irish economy is that sales have now increased in critical retail areas, including clothing (+3.5pc), food (+1.9pc) and fuel (+1.4pc).
But the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) warned against over-estimating the strength and speed of the retail recovery in Irish cities and towns.
ISME chief executive Mark Fielding stressed that while sales were up, SMEs were still battling unacceptably high costs.
"Sales are certainly up year- on-year. Consumer spending is increasing, but it is doing so slowly.
"But small-medium businesses are still paying 6pc more than the EU average for electricity.
"The problem continues to be that high business costs make profitability a difficult goal for many traders.
"The reality is that retailers are the first to be hit by the fall-out from an economic crash and are usually one of the last to derive benefits from any slight recovery," he said.