The UK high street outperformed expectations in February when retailers recorded the strongest growth in sales volumes in over two years, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said today.

The CBI’s latest Distributive Trades Survey also revealed that although price inflation had accelerated over the month, the fall in employment had slowed and investment intentions had stabilised for the first time in over two years.

23% of retailers said sales volumes in early February were lower against the year and 46% said they were up, giving a positive balance of +23%. Additionally, 16% of retailers said that they anticipate further growth in March compared with last year.

Clothing sales rose their fastest pace since October 2006. Grocers had a good month. Durable household goods, furniture and carpets also showed “robust growth” but hardware and DIY fell.

Andy Clarke, chairman of the CBI Distributive Trades Panel and chief operating office of Asda said: “Sales have been stronger this month than many retailers predicted they would be, but that’s not surprising as January was impacted by VAT changes and forward buys in December. Retailers don’t think February’s growth spurt will be matched in March, but the sector can take some reassurance that job losses are easing off.”

The volume of orders placed with suppliers increased in line with sales volumes the CBI said.

Stock levels remained in a similar position to January with 14% of retailers saying they had enough to meet demand.

Retailers expect to authorise about the same amount of capital expenditure over the next 12 months as they did over the past 12 months.