* UK retail sales rise 9.2% m/m in April, up 42.4% y/y
* Non-essential shops in England reopened on April 12
* Clothing sales jump by 70% on month as socialising resumes
* Monthly spending 10% higher than before COVID pandemic
LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - British shoppers splashed out on
new clothes in April after shops reopened following months of
lockdown closures, adding to signs of a robust economic
recovery, official data showed on Friday.
Sales volumes in April jumped 9.2% month on month - twice
the average forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and the
biggest rise since June - after rising 5.1% in March. Clothing
sales soared by almost 70%.
"Fashion retailers (were) the ultimate beneficiaries of beer
gardens reopening and the 'rule of six' night out returning,"
said Aled Jones, head of retail at Lloyds Bank.
Bank of England policymakers are keeping a close watch on
retail sales, expecting a surge in spending as wealthier
households spend savings built up during lockdowns.
The central bank forecast this month that the economy would
grow by 7.25% this year after slumping by nearly 10% in 2020,
its biggest decline in more than 300 years.
But unlike after previous recessions, unemployment has
stayed low so far, thanks to a costly government furlough
programme that has benefited millions of employees.
Separate data on Friday, from Britain's longest-running
survey of consumer sentiment, showed that morale in May was back
at where it was just before the country first went into lockdown
in March 2020.
The Office for National Statistics said retail sales in
April were 10.6% above their pre-pandemic level. However, many
high-street shops have suffered badly from repeated lockdowns
that accelerated the shift to online commerce.
Department store Debenhams closed its last store this month
after more than 240 years of trading and its brand name was
bought by online retailer Boohoo.
Retailers such as clothing and furniture stores that the
government classed as non-essential were unable to reopen to
shoppers in England until April 12, after being forced to close
in early January.
Online retail's share of spending dropped to 30.0% in April
from 34.7% in March, its lowest since December. Spending at
supermarkets also fell slightly on the month as restaurants
reopened for outside dining.
Sales volumes last month were 42.4% higher than in April
2020, when they collapsed during Britain's first coronavirus
lockdown, the ONS said.
Consultants Capital Economics said sales growth was likely
to level off now that spending was above pre-crisis levels.
"Economic recovery will continue. It's just it will be
driven by a surge in spending in the pubs, restaurants and
cinemas rather than the shops," Capital Economics' chief UK
economist Paul Dales said.
(Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce
Editing by David Goodman and Raissa Kasolowsky)