Chief's job on the line at Arcadia

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The Independent Online
JOHN HOERNER, chief executive of the Burtons, Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop group Arcadia, is coming under increasing pressure from City financiers to resign, ahead of next month's crucial trading statement.

Calls for Mr Hoerner to be replaced were sparked by last month's profits warning, which came four weeks after reporting a 43 per cent plunge in its latest full-year profits. It is thought that only a strong trading performance in December will be enough to save his job.

The struggling retailer has slashed prices this Christmas in an attempt to reverse the decline in sales. Although the bargains have tempted customers back into Arcadia's shops this still may not be enough to save Mr Hoerner's job.

Arcadia's creditors are concerned that the company is close to breaking its banking covenants, which dictate that its cash flow remains at least three times more than its interest payments. Arcadia may even consider the sale of its flagship store on Oxford Street in a desperate attempt to raise the much-needed cash.

One analyst said: "There is clearly a problem now. Interest cover is very low."

Mr Hoerner has led Arcadia since the beginning of last year when it was demerged from the former Burton Group. The shares hit 4301/2p on their first day of trading but have declined almost continually ever since, closing on Friday at 821/2p. A research note published two weeks ago by broker Morgan Stanley stunned the market by predicting a 55p base price for Arcadia. The company has more than 2,000 outlets under 15 fashion brands. Most recently, it acquired five fashion chains from Philip Green, the retail entrepreneur, as part of the break-up of Sears.

The crunch for Arcadia will come on 20 January, the date of its annual general meeting when the company will also reveal its trading performance for the Christmas period. The scene will be set by the British Retail Consortium's report, which is due on 10 January. Fears, however, that clothing retailers are suffering have been raised by reports that Marks & Spencer has suffered a slump in sales of up to 20 per cent. Peter Salsbury, chief executive of M&S, is another retailer whose job is on the line.

But the John Lewis Partnership has shrugged off the high street club. On Thursday, the department store and supermarket chain revealed a 17.1 per cent jump in turnover for the previous week. Sales for the four-week pre-Christmas period are expected to be 18 per cent better than they were last year.

Other retailers that are believed to have bucked the retail gloom include jewellers. The gem sector is thought to have benefited from an unprecedented surge in the demand for diamonds, as many see their purchase as a fitting way to mark the millennium.