Bottom Line: Body Shop fitter

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The Independent Online
THOSE who fretted that the 20 per cent rise in Body Shop's profits at the halfway stage would last only as long as a bottle of Dewberry body lotion were having second thoughts yesterday. Pre-tax profits and earnings were up by 38 per cent to pounds 29.7m and 10.3p respectively. More importantly, it seems to have managed to arrest the decline in its British stores.

On the face of it, like-for-like sales level with last year is not all that impressive. But they rose 4 per cent in the second half, reversing the 5 per cent decline in the first. While that should be set against an 8 per cent decline in the second half of 1992, it does suggest that re- vamping the store lay-outs and boosting the marketing spend is winning customers.

Experiments like Tupperware- style home shopping - a success in three pilot regions - may squeeze out a few more sales, although with more than 240 shops, the scope for growth is limited.

That is less of a worry now that Britain accounts for just a third of sales. Last year's 50 US openings, bringing the chain up to 170, gave the quantum leap in performance optimists had hoped for and profits there trebled to pounds 6.2m. With scope for perhaps 400 stores, maturity is clearly some way away while markets like Japan, Australia and large tracts of Europe remain untapped.

Even with 153 openings a year, conquering the world will take some time. The risks of such breakneck expansion are reduced by franchising, albeit it remains vulnerable to fraud.

On forecasts of about pounds 34m for the current year, the shares - up 20p to 234p yesterday - are on a multiple of 20 times. That is a slight premium to the market and the 0.3p dividend increase to a meagre 20p, for a 1 per cent yield, is little compensation. Its growth prospects and its success in weathering the British storm mean it deserves the benefit of the doubt.