By Lea Pachta

Reacting to the official retail sales figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released today (Friday), the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the official data paints too pessimistic a picture of December trading.

Richard Lim, British Retail Consortium Economist, said: "The figures are right to show December sales values were up on a year ago. Customers clearly felt more confident about spending than they have for some time. Sales growth was also helped by the VAT cut dropping out of the 12-month comparison, December being the first and only month where the 15 per cent rate is the same as a year earlier.

"But these ONS sales figures paint a more pessimistic picture than we would have expected. ONS's figure of 2.6 per cent for annual growth in sales values is less than half the 6.0 per cent result in our own Retail Sales Monitor, published last week. It's also at odds with a spate of company trading results since Christmas that show December sales well up on the previous year - with some retailers even recording double digit growth."