February exceeds expectations with homewares and furniture up, while sales volumes of hardware and DIY continue to fall.
The UK high street outperformed its expectations of a flat first half to February by reporting the strongest growth in sales volumes in more than two years.
The CBI's latest Distributive Trades Survey revealed that 46% of retailers experienced an increase in sales volumes, while 23% said they were lower. The resulting balance of 23% is a clear improvement on -8% seen in January.
According to the CBI's figures, retailers of durable household goods, and furniture and carpets posted robust growth after sales falls in January. However, sales in the hardware, china and DIY sector continued to fall.
A balance of 16% of retailers expect further growth next month, compared with March last year.
The fall in employment also eased for a second consecutive quarter, with a balance of 16% of firms reporting that they plan to cut headcount, with a broadly similar fall expected in March.
Chairman of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel and Asda ceo Andy Clarke commented: "Sales have been stronger this month than many retailers predicted they would be, but that's not surprising as January was impacted by VAT changes and forward buys in December.
Retailers don't think February's growth spurt will be matched in March, but the sector can take some reassurance that job losses are easing off and capital expenditure plans are stabilising."
He added: "While retailers see some growth ahead, the road to recovery through 2010 is likely to be fragile. Worries about the economy and upcoming pay freezes are likely to ensure that shoppers remain cautious."