Data released this morning by the CSO show that headline retail sales volumes decreased 0.1% m/m in December. On an annual basis, this equated to a fall of 1.0%. Stripping out the volatile motor sales component (+0.2% m/m, -21.9% y/y), core retail sales volumes were +0.8% m/m (+0.8% y/y).
Within the data, we see that 8 of the 13 segments recorded growth in volume terms over the month. Department Stores (+6.3% m/m, +6.5% y/y) and Bars (+4.4% m/m, +2.4% y/y) were areas of strength, while Furniture and Lighting (-7.1% m/m, -10.5% y/y) and Electrical Goods (-1.2% m/m, +4.1% y/y) proved a drag on sales during the month. The weakness in Electrical Goods was likely down to a hangover from the digital switchover in October, as consumers brought forward purchases. On Furniture and Lighting, recent data have indicated that housing transactions were strong in the last quarter of 2012, suggesting that sales in that area may improve in the coming months.
In all, despite the economic and fiscal headwinds retail sales performed relatively strongly in the second half of last year, with core retail sales now in positive territory on an annual basis in both volume (0.8%) and value (+1.1%) terms for five successive months. That the positive underlying trend in core retail sales remained intact in December tallies with positive noises from the industry regarding trading over the Christmas period. For the year as a whole, core retail volumes were down marginally in 2012 (-0.2%), a material improvement on 2011 (-2.6%).