Retail sales inch forward

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Sales on Britain's high streets rose between during the last month, official figures show, but at a slower rate than anticipated.

Between February and March the total value of retail sales went up by 0.3 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said today.

But despite the slower than expected increase, analysts predict that the Bank of England will not be deterred from raising interest rates half a percentage point to 5.5 per cent next month.

The ONS revealed that on a quarterly basis, retail sales were up 0.4 per cent in the three months to March, compared to growth of 1.2 per cent between December and February.

Today's figures also show that the unadjusted value of retail sales for the quarter preceding March was 4.7 per cent higher than the same period last year.

And the average weekly value of sales in March stood at £4.8 billion, the highest annual growth on record since May 2004.

But Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at research firm Global Insight, explained that retail sales were "bouncing around all over the place at the moment".

"The smaller-than-expected rise in retail sales in March certainly will not deter the Bank of England from raising interest rates by a further 25 basis points to 5.5 per cent in May, particularly as sales appear to have been strong over the Easter period, helped by the fine weather," he elaborated.

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