Retail sales figures for the month of November published yesterday pointed to a strong start to the Christmas shopping season with sales volumes well up on the month and the year. And even with volatile items like car sales stripped out, the core retail numbers were very strong.

Thomas Burke, Director of Retail Ireland, said the numbers were encouraging with a number of key trends emerging. "Consumers are buying earlier in the season. The increase in sales would suggest that they are responding to heavy promotional activity around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are a new feature of the market. But there was also deep discounting in November and the indications are that it continued into December," he added.

Mr Burke said the migration to online was another development to which Irish retailers were responding with increased investment to take advantage of the trade. However, it appears that an increasing proportion of the online spend is going to the UK, especially in recent times given the sterling shift, he added. "Figures from the Central Bank towards the end of last year suggested that sales in the online space had increased by about 20%. That's the equivalent of about €200m. However, evidence would suggest that 70% of the online trade leaked into the UK." 

He said there were also indications that there had been an uplift in cross border shopping activity, but that the effects of that were felt mainly in the border regions. 

Thomas Burke said the overall picture for the Christmas retail trade would not be clear until later this month. However, he said the exchequer return figures, indicating some softening in VAT numbers for December, were of concern. "The figures suggest that VAT receipts came in about 3.5% below profile. However, many of our members have reported a fairly robust Christmas period. It was patchy, and some sectors did better than others, but they're still hopeful that a 3% increase in sales will be realised," he concluded.

***
MORNING BRIEFS - Some 21,000 new companies were registered here in 2016, according to figures from the group Vision-Net.ie which compiles figures on start ups and insolvencies. It is the first time in nearly 20 years that the figure surpassed the 20,000 mark. The number was up 8% on 2015 and was also the second highest annual tally in 36 years. On the other side of the equation, there were fewer than 1,000 insolvencies last year - the first time it has dipped below that number since 2008.

*** Fewer pubs in Dublin changed hands last year than in 2015. According to figures from property consultants, CBRE, 30 licensed premises were sold in the capital, down from 35 the previous year. That is seen as reflecting a general improvement in trading conditions with fewer distressed sales in the sector.
The 30 premises that switched hands in 2016 did so at a combined value of €43m, which compares with €40m from the combined proceeds of 35 sales in 2015.

*** Irish pension managed funds rallied during December, boosting the outcome for the final quarter of the year and, in turn, flattering the full year numbers. According to figures from Rubicon Investment Consulting, pension funds delivered a respectable near 6% return on average over 2016. That was despite a poor start to the year and a Brexit related shock to markets. There were big variations in performance throughout the year with a difference of almost 13% between the best and worst performing funds.

*** Buoyed by his success in keeping Ford from moving some production to Mexico, Donald Trump has set his sights on Toyota. The US President elect has threatened to impose a hefty tariff on units made by the Japanese carmaker south of the border for the US market. Toyota said it has no immediate plans to abandon production in Mexico, and added that production and employment levels at Toyota in the US would not suffer as a result of the new plant in Mexico. The company already has 10 plants in the US.