Flat-screen TV sales keep Comet owner busy

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The Independent Online

The prospect of digital Britain, which is fuelling demand for flat-screen televisions capable of receiving crystal sharp, high-definition broadcasts, kept consumers flocking to Comet stores for new sets after the World Cup finished, according to its owner Kesa Electricals.

Instead of slowing down, sales of flat-screen TVs remained strong throughout August, September and October, Kesa said yesterday, unveiling figures that briefly sent its shares to a new high. Kesa's comments echoed those made by DSG International, home to Currys, on Wednesday.

John Lewis yesterday also said sales of its own televisions were doing "incredibly well", rising by 14 per cent last week against its peak week during the World Cup.

Kesa reported a 9.5 per cent leap in group like-for-like sales, which includes its main French electricals chain Darty and its BUT furniture business, during its third-quarter to 31 October.

Comet's underlying sales surged 10.9 per cent, Darty's by 9.6 per cent, and BUT's by 3 per cent. Its less developed chains in Italy, Switzerland and Belgium grew their underlying sales by 10.2 per cent.

Jean-Noel Labroue, the chief executive, said market conditions had been "positive". He said the strength of the back-to-school market had driven laptop sales, and the white goods market, which is driven by the housing market, had continued to pick up. But he remained cautious going into December and January, which is when the group makes most of its money.

"Although consumer confidence is expected to remain robust in the short term, we have seen a slowdown in the rate of growth towards the end of the quarter," he added. M. Labroue also said margins, which are lower on new technology products because of intense competition, remained soft.

Shares in the group, which briefly touched a new high of 376.75p, closed down a halfpenny at 359.5p despite a series of profit upgrades from analysts. Numis Securities lifted its pre-tax profit expectations to £175m from £160.1m.

On Wednesday John Clare, DSG's chief executive, said that size was "now everything" when it came to flat-panel TVs.

The best-selling models today have 37-inch screens and the 20-inch models, which a decade ago were regarded as large, are seen as portable versions.