By Geoffrey Smith
Investing.com — U.K. consumers ramped up their credit card spending ahead of the holiday season, as inflation for groceries in particular continued to run well ahead of the rate of wage growth.
Figures from the Bank of England showed consumer credit rose £1.507 billion (£1=$1.2062) in November, its biggest increase in five months and well ahead of analysts’ forecasts, as households prepared for the Christmas holiday season with inflation running at over 10%.
The British Retail Consortium said on Wednesday that overall shop price inflation had eased moderately to 7.3% in December from 7.4% in November. but food prices – which loom particularly large during the festive season – accelerated strongly to 13.3% from 12.4%, offsetting declines in non-food prices.
A parallel survey by market research firm Kantar Worldpanel, meanwhile, suggested that grocery prices rose 14.2% from a year earlier in December, while sales volumes fell 1%.
The BRC, a retail industry body, blamed the war in Ukraine for keeping the price of key inputs into food production – such as animal feed, fertilizer and energy – higher than they would otherwise be. Others, such as UBS Global Wealth Management chief economist Paul Donovan, noted that rising corporate profit margins have also played an important role.
“If companies can convince customers that price increases are due to forces beyond their control, they can persuade customers to accept expanding profit margins,” Donovan said in a daily briefing, adding that “in recent months, agricultural output prices have been falling.”
“With shoppers having less money to spend on discretionary retail having paid for their essential groceries, there will be little to stimulate demand across the non-food channels,” said Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at NielsenIQ. “The increase in food inflation is going to put further pressure on household budgets and it’s unlikely that there will be any improvement in the consumer mind-set around personal finances in the near term.”
The trend in consumer credit stood in stark contrast to housing-related credit in November. The Bank of England’s data showed mortgage approvals fell by some 20% as the market struggled to recover from the volatility in local capital markets caused by the disastrous and short-lived premiership of Liz Truss.