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UK consumer spending cools as snow keeps shoppers at home

[LONDON] UK household spending grew at the slowest pace in almost two years last month as freezing weather kept shoppers at home.

Annual consumption growth slowed to 2 per cent, the weakest since April 2016, Barclaycard said in a report on Tuesday. Spending in stores fell 1.9 per cent as Britons opted for online shopping as the "Beast from the East" snowstorm engulfed the country.

A separate survey by the British Retail Consortium found modest sales growth in a "volatile" March. The industry group said that despite the extreme cold, the early timing of Easter helped bolster sales toward the end of the month.

Consumer spending power has been damped by inflation from the pound's slide following the 2016 Brexit vote, yet there are some signs of optimism, with Barclaycard finding confidence in household finances at the highest level since October.

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"It seems consumers have become accustomed to adjusting their budget and as a result are more confident in their own finances," said Paul Lockstone, managing director at Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of the nation's credit and debit-card transactions. "While there are bright spots, however, it's important to note that a sense of caution still remains."