Profits before tax for the six months to 28 August were pounds 9m, up from pounds 7.4m last time, on sales 8.3 per cent ahead at pounds 86.2m. The results also benefited from a pounds 647,000 drop in interest payable to pounds 1.2m, two-thirds of which was due to the reduction in interest rates.
Sales at the core home shopping business rose 8.6 per cent to pounds 82.8m, but a decision to fund postage of returns - about 25 per cent of orders are sent back by customers - meant that margins slipped slightly from 12.6 to 12.5 per cent.
About 1.4 million customers bought goods from the group in the last six months, spending an average of pounds 140 each. N Brown added 32 pages to its three main catalogues - JD Williams, Oxendales and Ambrose Wilson which, together with Heather Valley for more affluent customers, account for more than 70 per cent of the business - and also introduced new ranges, such as childrenswear and branded goods for special occasions. Jim Martin, chief executive, said the results of these improvements had been 'encouraging'.
Earnings per share were 8.29p, up from 6.84p, and the dividend was increased by 0.3p to 2.25p. The shares rose 6p to 413p.