Retail sales were better than expected in the first half of February, with only a slight decline on the same period in 2011, according to the CBI. The CBI’s latest quarterly Distributive Trades Survey, conducted over the first two weeks of February, revealed that 34% of retailers reported an increase in their volume of sales in the year to February, and 36% said they had seen a reduction. The resulting balance of -2% represents an improvement on last month’s survey (-22%) and exceeded expectations (-10%). Among the best performing sectors were grocery (+55%) and non-store retailers such as online and mail order (+71%). Worst performers included clothing retails, which recorded a balance of -41%, the lowest since March 2009. The survey also found that price inflation in shops, although above the long-run average with a balance of +49%, is down from its peak a year ago (+73%), and at its lowest since late 2010 (+45%). Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel and ASDA chief operating officer, said: “It’s good to see there are more positive signs on our high streets. But consumers are clearly continuing to focus their spending on day-to-day needs, rather than big ticket or luxury items. “With disposable incomes under constant pressure, retailers remain concerned about the general business outlook for the rest of 2012.”