Harvey Nichols shares slump

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Harvey Nichols, the Knightsbridge department store made famous by Edina and Patsy from `Absolutely Fabulous' (right), had an absolutely ghastly day yesterday as news of a slowdown in pre-Christmas sales wiped almost 11 per cent off its value. Shares in the company slumped 23p to 193p as the company reported that sales growth in the first nine weeks of the second half had slowed to only 3 per cent. Joseph Wan, the group's colourful chief executive, called the performance `disappointing', but said that he was still `optimistic' about the Christmas period. While trading at group's new store in Leeds is improving, sales at the flagship Knightsbridge shop are slowing, leading to the likelihood of sharp markdowns in the January sales, said Mr Wan. Part of the problem is the strong pound which has deterred overseas customers from spending. The retailer makes around a fifth of its sales from outside the UK. The news of disappointing current sales growth came as the company reported a 24 per cent rise in first half turnover to pounds 60.9m and pre-tax profits 10 per cent ahead to pounds 6.1m, boosted by a first time contribution from the Oxo Tower restaurant and a full year's trading from the Leeds shop. Mr Wan said he planned to open another two department stores in the UK and a further four restaurants. Mr Wan said he was `within a few months' of announcing the next department store, which will be located either in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle or Manchester.

Investment column, page 24