Consumer spending 'has weakest start to year since 2012'

Consumer spending has got off to its weakest start of the year since 2012, according to new figures.

Households' spending showed a 1.1% annual fall in February, following a 1.2% decline in January, according to Visa's UK Consumer Spending Index.

Visa said the past two months have seen the strongest spending reduction for the start of a year since the opening two months of 2012, as households continue in "belt-tightening mode".

For the tenth month in a row, face-to-face spending on the high street fell annually, with a 2.5% decrease.

Visa spending index
Households continued to tighten their belts in February (Visa/PA)

Online spending increased slightly compared with a year ago, with a 0.2% uplift.

The index uses spending on Visa cards as a base and then adjusts the figures to reflect all consumer spending, not just that on cards.

Recreation and culture spending plunged by 6.1% annually in February - the biggest fall since April 2010.

Spending also fell annually on clothing and footwear, household goods and transport and communication.

Hotels, restaurants and bars were the strongest-performing sector, with spending up by 4.4% annually.

This was followed by miscellaneous goods and services, which includes health, beauty and jewellery. Spending in this sector increased by 4%.

Mark Antipof, chief commercial officer at Visa, said: "Britons have been in belt-tightening mode since last summer.

"February's cold snap certainly didn't alleviate this situation, particularly when we shine a spotlight on high street spending, and recreation and culture in particular, which saw its biggest decline since April 2010.

"On the other hand, hotels, restaurants and bars experienced another strong month. The resilience of this sector is somewhat unique, having reported uninterrupted growth since February 2011."

He continued: "As we look ahead into March, consumer spending is at risk of posting one of the worst quarter one results on record.

"Retailers will no doubt be hoping that the milder weather will put a spring in shoppers' steps."

Annabel Fiddes, principal economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the index, said: "The high street remained a key source of weakness, seeing spend fall for the tenth month in a row, while growth in eCommerce spending continued to disappoint.

"Rising living costs, lacklustre wage growth and relatively subdued consumer confidence are all likely playing a part in the ongoing reduction in household spending.

"Unless the squeeze on incomes subsides, it looks unlikely that household spending will pick up anytime soon."

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