Debenhams post 18.6% rise in half-year profits

Department store Debenhams posted an 18.6% rise in half-year profits today and predicted stable trading ahead.

The retailer, which has 164 stores, said pre-tax profits beat market expectations, jumping to £123.6 million in the six months to February 27, compared with £104.2 million in the same period last year.

Debenhams, which has proved robust during the recession, said the second half trading environment would be "broadly neutral" for the firm.

Debenhams has looked to focus on its exclusive ranges such as its Designers at Debenhams lines, which include clothing from John Rocha, Jasper Conran, Betty Jackson and FrostFrench.

The move away from concessions has temporarily dented sales growth but boosted profit margins and the retailer has shifted its stores around to give its own-bought products more prominence.

Like-for-like sales have remained positive, with growth of 0.3% continuing throughout the half-year and up to April 3, while gross transactional values were up 8.6% in the period.

Sales for the first six months rose 11.6% to £1.19 billion.

Debenhams said new ranges during the first half included Principles by Ben de Lisi.

Principles, which traded through 94 stores as well as Debenhams concessions, succumbed to recession a year ago - but Debenhams bought stock from administrators to keep the brand in stores until the relaunch.

Debenhams said customers had responded "extremely favourably" to the new collection, which was launched in 125 stores in February and the brand will be expanded to all outlets later this year.

The retailer said another own-bought favourite was childrenswear brand Bluezoo, which it said had "undoubtedly contributed" to its market share growth.

Debenhams said that, according to recent industry figures, its slice of the total market for clothing, footwear and accessories remained stable.

Strong market share growth was seen in menswear and childrenswear, but womenswear suffered in the move to own-bought ranges and under performance at some remaining concessions.

The chain said trading across the retail sector had been stable in the first half, as customer concerns over unemployment and government finances were offset by low interest rates and higher disposable income.

Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman said the firm was pleased with it performance in the period.

"Looking forward, we expect the trading environment to be broadly neutral for Debenhams in the second half," he said.

He added that the department store believed the improvements made to its own-bought ranges would "continue to find favour with customers" and help boost margins and market share in the future.

The retailer has 151 full department stores and 13 smaller format Desire by Debenhams outlets in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Denmark.

It opened four new stores during the first half - a flagship branch in Newcastle, and Desire outlets in Kidderminster, Monks Cross in York and Witney, Oxfordshire.

Two further department stores, in Carmarthen and Bury, are scheduled to open in the second half.

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