Retail sales rose in the UK in January, but failed to match market forecasts despite growth in non-food stores such as sports equipment, games and toys.
Official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a meagre 0.1% month-on-month rise in sales volumes. While this was up from the 1.5% decline seen in December, it failed to match the 0.5% gain forecast by analysts.
The annual rate of retail sales growth rose to 1.6% in January, from 1.5% in December - but failed to meet the 2.6% growth predicted.
ONS statisticians said that feedback from retailers suggested that New Year resolutions to get fit contributed to the sales increase - with sports equipment stores among the strongest performers.
The year-on-year growth rate for quantity bought in food stores showed a decline for the sixth-consecutive month, however, down 0.9% as food prices continued to rise.
Senior statistician Rhian Murphy said: "Retail sales growth was broadly flat at the beginning of the New Year with the longer-term picture showing a continued slowdown in the sector. This can partly be attributed to a background of generally rising prices.
“Growth in the quantity of sporting equipment, games and toys being bought was offset by falling food sales when compared with the same month a year earlier."
The ONS figures tallied with findings for January retail sales, published earlier this month by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which highlighted a "tough trading environment" with sales and profits "harder to come by".
Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said at the time: "Against this challenging backdrop, 2018 didn't have a bad start during what is traditionally a lean month, with sales creeping up in line with the year's average."
Ruth Gregory, UK economist at Capital Economics, said: "January’s subdued rise in the official measure of retail sales volumes suggests that the real pay squeeze is continuing to take its toll on high-street spending."
She added, however, that "consumer spending should receive more fundamental support over the coming quarters" if inflation continues to fall back and wage growth increases as expected.
Sterling was mixed, with a small gain against the dollar, but a 0.18% dip against the euro to £0.8885. There were strong gains, however, for UK stocks with the FTSE 100 up 0.78% and the mid-cap FTSE 250 up 0.73%.