What a miserable lot economists are.   They wait for good news, and when it finally comes along, they turn their noses up and say, “the statistics are probably wrong, anyway.”

Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics, which by the way is now independent, and has launched a new web site but which is totally un-navigable, released its latest data for retail sales.

And it was good news.

March saw retail sales down 0.4 per cent, but for the three months from January to March retail sales leapt a remarkable 2.6 per cent.   The ONS talked about the retail sector enjoying robust growth.

But it just doesn’t make sense.   Retail’s captains, the likes of Philip Green, have been moaning about how tough things are – the toughest they can remember, some say.    Others, the likes of the British Retail Consortium and CBI, have been reporting bad news with tedious regularity. 

Maybe the UK’s High Street is full of Moaning Minnies – or maybe the problem is something else.

Today, The Times headlined: “High Street’s boom figures under question,” while Capital Economics said, “We continue to have our doubts about how accurate a picture of High Street demand the official figures are giving.”

Perhaps we are actually seeing the difference between the big supermarkets and the rest shown up in starker relief. 

While the likes of Tesco recently revealed that profits were up 11.8 per cent, sales were up 11 per cent, and like-for-like sales were up 3.5 per cent in the year to February, other retailers seem to be suffering.   For example, in the 13 weeks to December 29, like-for-like sales at Marks and Spencer fell 2.2 per cent.

ONS data, it appears, is more heavily influenced by the big supermarkets. 

Mind you, sales might apparently be keeping up, but prices are falling.  The ONS  retail sales deflator fell from -0.6 per cent to -1.2 per cent in March. 

© Investment & Business News 2013