INTERNATIONAL. British retail sales rose by 0.9% in January after gaining 0.6% in December, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday, lifting prospects for first-quarter economic growth.
Analysts' consensus forecast had been for a fall of 0.4%, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires.
The ONS added in a statement that retail sales jumped by 2.0% in January compared with the same month in 2011, boosted by clothing and heavy discounting.
"This is a major surprise, and a very pleasant one," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.
"Given the key role of consumer spending, the unexpected and impressive 0.9% jump in retail sales volumes in January is a massive boost to hopes that the economy has returned to growth," he added.
The British economy contracted by 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and would return to recession with another contraction in the current first quarter of 2012. First-quarter gross domestic product figures are due in April.