First, it was the Office for National Statistics reporting that UK retail sales were year-on-year 4.2% higher in January – marking the biggest jump since December 2016. The comeback was generally attributed to the post-election consumer confidence and discounted clothing bargains.
This news was followed by the announcement Norway’s $1.2trn sovereign wealth fund, Norges, that it had bought a stake of just under 3% in retail and pubs specialist, NewRiver. The REIT’s latest results haven’t been spectacular but there is improving sentiment around its £1.3bn portfolio of 33 community shopping centres, 25 retail parks and more than 650 community pubs.
The business’ focus on ‘community and convenience’ suggests that it believes in an investment model which is plugged into people’s long-term, day-in-day-out habits. This is in contrast to the challenges faced by the competing mega-centres where shoppers tend to be more footloose about where they choose to do their ‘retailing recreation’.
At the grass roots of the property investment sector, retail assets have also seen something of return to favour. At auctioneer Acuitus’s February sale, convenience-led property was a top performer with shops, fast-food drive thrus and retail parks selling at yields as sharp as 4%.
Popping out for a pint of milk, beer or a Nando’s may not be as glamorous as luxury malls but it may be the platform from which retail finds its way back to a sustainable model.
Nobody in UK retail dares mention ‘green shoots’, but for a sector which has been pretty much in free fall for a decade, there are a few more reasons to be cheerful.