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UK retail sales unexpectedly fall in February, before coronavirus shutdowns

U.K. retail sales volume unexpectedly fell month over month in February amid extreme rainfall, even before coronavirus-related shutdowns took effect, the Office for National Statistics reported.

Retail sales slipped 0.3% in the month following a revised 1.1% growth in January, as the rainy weather had an adverse effect on retail sales. The consensus estimate of economists polled by Econoday was for sales to rise 0.2% in February.

Data was compiled by Feb. 29, which means it was "largely unaffected" by the closure of all non-essential shops, the ONS said. However, "a small number of retailers" suggested a decline in online orders shipped from China because of the impact of COVID-19.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

On a monthly basis, sales in food stores slid 0.4% while that in nonfood stores ticked up 0.1%. Non-store retail sales declined 2.8% while fuel sales rose 1.4%.

Online sales increased 2.0%, with such sales comprising 19.6% of all retailing in February 2020, up from 19.1% in January.

In value terms, retail sales fell 0.5% over the prior month.

On an annual basis, retail sales volume was flat, the weakest performance since March 2013, while retail sales value rose 0.7% in February.