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UK retail sales boom as high street shops reopen

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21 May 2021

Written by
Matthew Ryan

Senior Market Analyst at Ebury, Chartered Financial Analyst. Providing expert currency analysis so small and mid-sized businesses can effectively navigate international markets.

UK retail sales surged past expectations this morning, although currency traders largely took the data surprise in their stride.

s we thought might be the case, sales came in much hotter than expected in April, the first time period that covers the reopening of high street retail outlets. The headline retail sales growth number jumped to 9.2% month-on-month (more than double the 4.5% consensus), with sales also 42.4% higher on a year previous, when the UK was plunged into the first national lockdown. Excluding the volatile fuel component, sales also rose by 9% MoM, the third highest increase on record. Sales of clothing saw a particularly astonishing boom, jumping by 70% on a month previous.

Sterling briefly rallied on the back of the news, although the move proved short-lived. We think this largely has to do with investors viewing the consensus of economistsÔÇÖ as a very conservative one that, similarly to the March number, massively underestimated the impact of an easing in lockdown measures on consumer spending. All signs suggest that the UK economy is rebounding very well from the downturn at the beginning of the year and that a strong recovery is on the cards in Q2. This morningÔÇÖs UK PMI data provided further evidence of just that. The services index fell modestly short of expectations, although still rose to a near 8-year high 61.8, while manufacturing activity boomed to a record 66.1, well above the 60 consensus. With most nations still lagging behind the UK in easing virus restrictions, we see room for further upside in the pound, particularly should upcoming data continue to point to such a solid rebound in activity.

Euro Area PMI data points to solid rebound in Q2

The dollar was broadly weaker against most of its peers on Thursday as investors continue to look past last weekÔÇÖs strong US inflation numbers. EUR/USD rose back above the 1.22 level, although the pair has found gains hard to come by so far this morning, despite a strong set of Euro Area PMI numbers. Both the services and manufacturing indices beat expectations, dragging the composite index up to 56.9 in May, its highest level since February 2018. With fears over a third wave subsided and the EUÔÇÖs vaccination programme now in full swing, investors are similarly optimistic that the Euro Area economy is on course to bounce back well in Q2 following its contraction in Q1. The most important barometer for EUR/USD will be whether we begin to see a closing in the gap in economic performance between the US and Eurozone as the latter begins a more material unwinding in lockdown restrictions. This afternoonÔÇÖs US PMI data will be a major test of this hypothesis.