Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.
Retail sales volumes in the UK jumped 5.4% in March from the previous month, as coronavirus restrictions began to ease. This is up from February’s 2.2% growth, and far stronger than the 1.5% gain expected by the City.
Figures just released by the Office for National Statistics showed that compared with March last year, sales were up 1.6%. However, over the three months to March, sales volumes fell 5.8% on the previous three months, due to the latest lockdown.
Some travel and social distancing restrictions were lifted in England at the end of March, leading to higher consumer spending, the ONS said. The strongest growth in March was in clothing stores (up 17.5% on the month), other non-food stores (up 13.4%) and petrol stations (up 11.1%), the first monthly growth since October.
Auction houses had a good month as did medical goods retailers, which enjoyed sales growth of 29.4%, as retailers reported an increase in the purchase of mobility equipment from older consumers who were venturing out more after being vaccinated against coronavirus. Garden centres and retailers of plants and flowers reported monthly growth of 7.4%.
Food stores posted a 2.5% gain in sales, with butchers and bakers doing well during the Easter period when restaurants and cafes remained closed.
The ONS also released public finance figures. The government borrowed £28bn in March, £21bn more than in March 2020 – and the highest March borrowing since monthly records began in 1993.
In the year to March, tax receipts totalled £523.6bn, down £34.2bn on the previous year, as the VAT take, business rates and fuel duty were down, while government spending soared.
Central government bodies are estimated to have spent £941.7bn on day-to-day activities, £203.2bn more than in 2019-2020; this includes £78.2bn expenditure on coronavirus job support schemes.
European stock markets had another good day yesterday, however the recovery still has some way to go before reversing the losses seen earlier in the week. US stocks sold off, led by the Nasdaq, after reports that president Joe Biden is looking to increase the rate of capital gains tax to 39.6% for those Americans earning $1m a year or more, up from the current rate of 20%, with some wealthier individuals seeing their rates go up to 43.4%.
Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, says:
While one could argue that the prospect of higher taxes is never welcome, and a doubling of a key tax rate even more so, the likelihood of anything of this nature passing through an evenly split Congress, lies somewhere between slim and none, however in these highly uncertainty times it doesn’t take much to spook a little bit of profit taking, in what has already been a very choppy week. The reality is taxes may rise but certainly not by as much being touted.
European markets are expected to open slightly lower this morning. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei closed 0.57% lower while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 0.66%.
- 8.30am BST: France Markit Manufacturing / Services / Composite PMI Flash for April
- 8.30am BST: Germany Markit Manufacturing / Services / Composite PMI Flash for April
- 9am BST: Eurozone Markit Manufacturing / Services / Composite PMI Flash for April
- 9.30am BST: UK Markit Manufacturing / Services / Composite PMI Flash for April
- 2.45pm BST: US Markit Manufacturing / Services / Composite PMI Flash for April
- 3pm BST: US New home sales for March
- 3.30pm BST: ECB president Christine Lagarde speech