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Wet April hits high street spending

Consumers shunned the high street during the wettest April on record as overall spending dropped at the sharpest rate in 11 months, a study has said.

Household spending fell by 1.9%, one of the largest monthly falls seen since the height of the financial crisis in early 2009, Visa's UK expenditure index said.

Consumer spending overall fell by 4.3% year-on-year, which was the steepest annual decline recorded in 11 months, with expenditure on household goods being particularly weak with a 9.6% annual drop, the study said.

Face-to-face spending on the high street saw a 6.9% year-on-year fall in April as consumers remained indoors during the bad weather, the biggest drop recorded since the study began in June 2009.

Online spending saw a more gentle annual decline of 0.8% and contracted less sharply than the 2.8% fall in this category seen in March.

The monthly study is designed to reflect consumer spending generally across the UK, not just that on Visa cards.

Visa said that while the "dismal" weather has had a negative impact on retail sales, the sharp month-on-month drop was also caused by an artificial inflation of spending in March, when people rushed to the pumps amid the petrol panic.

The steep decline compared with 2011 is also likely to be due to the royal wedding a year earlier, which gave retailers a boost, the study suggested.

Steve Perry, commercial director at Visa Europe, said: "The dismal weather clearly had an impact on retail sales and unlike last year there was no royal wedding to buoy the month's consumer expenditure. Online spending declined less markedly than on the high street in April, indicating that shoppers were in no mood to brave the weather." He said that weak consumer confidence had been "masked" in March by fuel panic buying.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, which helps to compile the report, said that in the midst of a double-dip recession, it was unlikely there would be a strong improvement soon. He said: "Consumer spending remains under pressure from a considerable list of headwinds, including high unemployment, widespread job insecurity, low pay growth, high inflation and high debt. As such, it would be surprising to see any pick-up soon."