By Wiktor Szary and Jason Douglas

LONDON--U.K. retail sales grew at the fastest annual pace in nearly 15 years in October, official data showed Thursday, as British shoppers snapped up hats and coats and Halloween treats, remaining defiant in the face of stirring inflation and a widely anticipated slowdown in the job market.

Last month's sales grew by 7.4% compared with October last year, the Office for National Statistics said, significantly above the expectations of analysts polled by The Wall Street Journal, who forecast 5.3% growth. Compared with September, sales rose by 1.9%, also significantly beating economists' expectations.

The robust growth was driven by cooler October temperatures, whichprompted Britons to buy winter clothing, and by stronger-than-usual Halloween sales at supermarkets. Internet spending also grew strongly, rising at the fastest annual pace in over five years.

Whether Britons carry on spending will be critical to how well the world's fifth-largest economy performs in the months and years ahead as the country charts its departure from the European Union.

Britain's June 23 vote to leave the bloc initially triggered the steepest dive in consumer confidence in a generation, but sentiment has recovered since. Retailers enjoyed a solid summer, as sales were boosted by warm weather as well as the weakened pound, which lured overseas tourists into British shops.

However, many economists worry that accelerating price growth combined with a widely predicted tightening of the labor market may in the coming months curb Britons' willingness to part with their money.

Write to Wiktor Szary at Wiktor.Szary@wsj.comand Jason Douglas at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 17, 2016 04:53 ET (09:53 GMT)

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