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The return to schools and offices boosted UK welfare spending in September, according to card transaction data, which shows the strongest signs of consumer habits normalizing since the pandemic began.

Entertainment spending rose 28 percent last month compared to the same period in 2019, Barclaycard data showed on Tuesday. This is the fastest pace in over two years as new film releases, concerts and theatrical performances encouraged the British to return to the venues.

Pubs, bars and clubs, meanwhile, announced that spending was up 43.5 percent, bringing the total to 13.3 percent above 2019 levels, Barclaycard data showed.

“The return of students and workers to schools and offices gave many sectors a big boost in September,” said Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products at Barclaycard.

After panic buying due to the fuel crisis and soaring gasoline prices, fuel spending rose 11 percent, the fastest growth in more than two years.

Barclaycard represents nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions and provides a glimpse into spending trends over the past month before official economic data is released with a significant delay.

The shift towards social spending was reflected in weaker retail sales, separate figures from the British Retail Consortium revealed. Retail sales rose 0.6 percent in September compared to the same month last year, up from 3 percent in August and 6.4 percent in July.

The food and beverage sector underperformed in September, BRC data showed, while footwear and fashion sales grew, especially formal wear, and many employees returned to the office this fall.

“The fourth quarter looks challenging as the economic recovery depends on strong retail sales over the holiday season,” said Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium.

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