British retailers finished 2011 with the best sales growth in months as hefty discounting lured in shoppers, while weak business a year earlier flattered the figures, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday, but it added that it expected another tough year.
The value of retail sales on a like-for-like basis - a measure favoured by equity analysts - was 2.2 percent higher on the year in December after a 1.6 percent fall in November, better than the 0.1 percent rise forecast in a Reuters poll.
Total sales, which in contrast to the like-for-like metric include new floorspace and are closer to the measure used in Britain's official statistics, grew 4.1 percent, up from a 0.7 percent annual rise in November.
With inflation running at 4.8 percent, retail sales volumes are almost certainly down on a year earlier.
On both measures, sales were the strongest since April, the BRC said. Excluding that month, which was helped by an extra public holiday for the royal wedding, sales grew at their fastest pace since January 2011.
Stephen Robertson, BRC Director General, noted that December figures benefited from a favourable comparison with the previous December when sales were hit by severe weather, from deeper and earlier discounting and from a Christmas Eve that fell on a Saturday, boosting last-minute Christmas shopping.
A solid December result hasn't rescued a pretty miserable year. Whole-year figures show minimal growth in 2011, he said. We're not witnessing any fundamental change in customers' circumstances.
(Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)