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Total UK footfall increased by 2.2 percentage points in February compared to the previous month as the return to the office and normal life boosted shopper numbers despite stormy weather.

The BRC-Sensormatic IQ Footfall Monitor for the month found total UK footfall decreased by 14.9% in February compared to pre-pandemic figures of 2020, a 2.2 percentage point improvement from January and better than the 3-month average decline of 17.2%.

This figure was ahead of Spain (-16.4%), France (-20.3%), Italy (-29.1%) and Germany (-42.6%) in February.

Footfall on High Streets declined by 19.4% in February compared to two years ago, 4.8 percentage points better than last month’s rate, and an improvement on the 3-month average decline of 22.4%.

Retail Parks saw footfall decrease by 10.2%, 2.8 percentage points better than last month’s rate, while shopping centre footfall declined by 35.2%, 2.3 percentage points better than last month’s rate.

England saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions at -14.4%, followed by Northern Ireland at -15.5% and Wales at -17.1%. Scotland saw the steepest decline at -17.5%.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson commented: “UK footfall led the major European economies in February, as the steady return to the office increased shopper numbers in many towns and city centres. A promising start to the month was briefly dampened by Storm Eunice, before bouncing back in the final week of February, to its highest level since the pandemic began. This coincided with the easing of Covid restrictions in England. Overall, the major cities enjoyed the biggest improvements, particularly London, Manchester, and Birmingham.

“Retailers, large and small, will welcome the return of customers to their stores – a sign their innovation and investment in their physical and digital offerings is working. However, challenges remain; consumer confidence has been greatly impacted by rising inflation, while the return of hospitality and tourism will create additional competition. Retailers will need to continue the momentum to keep consumers engaged.”

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, added: “February saw an improving picture for the High Street as shopper traffic continued to recover. Total UK footfall reported the highest number of shopper counts seen since pre-pandemic levels in the last week of the month and the UK now leads the top 5 European markets’ footfall recovery, suggesting a growing confidence among shoppers, with UK Governments announcing the further easing and ending of covid restrictions.

“And while this represents what many, not least retailers, hope will be the ‘beginning of the end’ of the covid crisis - our latest data shows consumer concern about in-store safety fell by -18 percentage points year-on-year - shoppers now face new and growing pressures. The cost-of-living squeeze and inflation, which is putting downward pressures on disposable income, and a volatile macroeconomic and geopolitical climate could create a perfect storm of uncertainty for consumers, which could still impact the long-term retail recovery as it looks to build back post-pandemic.”

Morning update

Retail property giant Hammerson saw a strong rebound in earnings last year on a strong rebound in footfall and an improvement in rental collections.

The shopping centre group’s adjusted earnings jumped by 122% to £81m in 2021 (£37m a year ago), benefiting from increased net rental income, a strong recovery in Value Retail earnings, and lower finance costs.

Gross rental income was down £45m to £242m, largely due to in-year disposals, which will have a full year effect in 2022.

Net assets at year end were £2.84bn a decline of 14% over the year (compaed to a 26% decline in 2020), largely attributable to the continuing effect of the global Covid-19 pandemic on property valuations in the first half of the year.

Yields showed signs of stabilising in the second half of the year, and rental levels were more resilient in France and Ireland, while the decline in the UK is slowing as the market approaches trough values and investment markets gain more confidence in pricing income streams.

The revaluation deficit drove an IFRS loss of £429m for the year, compared to a £1.74bn in the previous period.

CEO Rita-Rose Gagné said: “Since the beginning of 2021, we have made fundamental changes in our business, realigning our portfolio with £623m of disposals, significantly strengthening the balance sheet, re-setting our organisation and putting in place a clear strategy for value creation focused on our prime urban estates.

“The pandemic has accelerated trends in our operating environment, with people engaging with physical space in new ways. Our role is to create and curate relevant, appealing and sustainable spaces for the future.

“We are already seeing the tangible results from our strategy with strong occupier leasing demand, reduced vacancies, improved collections, a lower cost base and clear path to value creation from our land bank.

“We have more to do. Today we are a forward-looking organisation with our assets at the heart of driving value creation.”

Elsewhere, Hilton Food Group has announced the appointment of Patricia Dimond as a non-executive director with effect from 1 April 2022.

Dimond has had a 30-year international career in consumer, retail and financial markets working as an executive or strategic advisor with FTSE 100, Private Equity and owner managed companies.

She currently serves as a non-executive director of Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust, Foresight VCT and LXi REIT where she is chair of audit.

Additionally John Worby, non-executive director, audit committee chair and senior independent director, will not be seeking re-election at Hilton’s AGM and therefore will step down from the Hilton Board on 24 May 2022.

Dimond will become audit committee chair and Angus Porter will become the senior independent director.

Chairman Robert Watson commented: “I am delighted to welcome Patricia to the Board of Hilton Foods. With four decades of experience advising and leading major consumer brands and businesses, we will benefit enormously from her counsel and expertise. I would also like to thank John for his significant contribution to Hilton’s successful journey. Since John joined the Board in 2016, Hilton has continued to grow and develop into a truly global business, and we wish him all the best.”

On the markets this morning, the FTSE 100 has dropped a further 1.7% to 7,113.5pts.

Risers include McColl’s, up 6.4% to 1.75p, Nichols, up 1.2% to 1,425p and McBride, up 0.8% to 43.3p.

Fallers include DS Smith, down 3.9% to 300.7p, Coca-Cola HBC, down 3.7% to 1,540.5p and WH Smith, down 3.6% to 1,449p.

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 continues to be volatile, reflecting the continued conflict in Ukraine, with the index dropping 2.6% to 7,238.9pts yesterday.

Heavy fallers included Just Eat, down 12.5% to 2,544p, THG, down 10.2% to 88.7p, Glanbia, down 7.2% to €11.50 after releasing its annual results, PZ Cussons, down 6.7% to 191.6p, Naked Wines, down 6.4% to 388.5p, WH Smith, down 5.7% to 1,503p, Deliveroo, down 5% to 118.1p and Compass Group, down 4.6% to 1,605.5p.

The few risers yesterday included troubled McColl’s, which gained 7.5% to edge up to 1.65p, Hotel Chocolat was up 3.5% to 445p, Parsley Box gained 1.7% to 29p and Virgin Wines was up 0.8% to 131p.