Fears for retail snowball after profit warning from Alexon

Alexon, the fashion retailer, yesterday sent a pre-Christmas chill through the retail sector with a profits warning, becoming the latest group to warn about the damaging impact of the "extreme" wintry conditions.

The group, whose brands include Ann Harvey, Dash, Eastex and Kaliko, said its underlying sales had plummeted by 20 per cent for the three weeks to 18 December, which would hit its full-year profits by up to £1.5m. The update followed similar comments on the snow by JJB Sports, the troubled sportswear retailer, and HMV, the entertainment and bookseller group. The timing of the prolonged snowfall around the peak shopping period of the so-called "golden quarter" – when retailers make the bulk of their profits – could not be worse. Andy Wade, an analyst at Numis, said sales were down by up to 50 per cent in areas heavily affected by the weather.

Freddie George, an analyst at Seymour Pierce, said: "The snow has been a nightmare for retailers, with sales 'lost' to the early December snow not being recouped before Saturday's snow hit the busiest weekend of the year."