The increase reflects a strong performance from the group's 22 department stores, which lifted sales by 6 per cent to pounds 1.2bn. The two London stores were particularly strong but northern stores, such as those in Newcastle and Sheffield, were below the average.
The Waitrose supermarkets, however, continued to feel the effects of fierce competition and sales were static at pounds 1.1bn - a small underlying improvement because there was an extra week's trading in the previous year.
Trading profit for the two businesses rose 22 per cent to pounds 116.6m while pre-tax profits, helped by a reduction in the interest bill, increased 31 per cent to pounds 93.3m. Stuart Hampson, chairman, said part of the rise was due to a pounds 10m business rate rebate, but the underlying advance in pre-tax profits was still 16 per cent.
The group does not separate the profit contributions from the two businesses until the annual report is published in May. But Mr Hampson hinted that Waitrose's profits will have been hit by oversupply in the market and the costs of introducing scanning.
The group also estimates that it loses pounds 1m a week in sales because of its refusal to open on a Sunday. When this becomes legal, it will 'open where we think . . . it makes commercial sense', a spokesman said.
Mr Hampson believes profits could rise further this year 'provided we keep a grip on our costs'. That could mean another improvement in the bonus rate - still less than half the 24 per cent paid in the boom years of 1987 and 1988.Reuse content