By Wiktor Szary

LONDON--U.K. retailers enjoyed their best month for sales in more than a year in December, data published by the U.K.'s leading business lobby group showed Tuesday, as Britons continued to snap up winter clothes and groceries ahead of Christmas.

The Confederation of British Industry's headline gauge for retail sales rose to plus 35 in December, from plus 26 the previous month, well above the expectations of analysts polled by The Wall Street Journal, who forecast a reading of plus 19, as well as the industry's own expectations for the month. The balance represents the difference between the percentage of retailers reporting an increase on the year-earlier period and those reporting a decrease.

December's balance was the highest since September 2015. The survey was conducted between Nov. 24 and Dec. 13, with over 100 firms taking part.

U.K. shoppers have appeared largely unfazed by the prospect of Britain's exit from the European Union in the wake of the June 23 referendum, with sales growing strongly over the summer and hitting a 14-year annual high in October. But economists say that stirring inflation and a widely-anticipated slowdown in the job market could make Britons less keen to part with their cash in the months ahead.

Growth in retail sales slowed visibly already in November, official data showed earlier this month, as soaring fuel prices curbed consumer spending. Official data for December will not be available until the start of 2017.

"With higher inflation beginning to weigh on households' purchasing power, consumption patterns are likely to shift, creating winners and losers across the retail landscape,"said Ben Jones, the CBI's principal economist.

Write to Wiktor Szary at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 20, 2016 06:28 ET (11:28 GMT)

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