French Connection cuts costs as losses double

French Connection today said it had cut head office jobs and closed its Northern European arm amid a doubling of half-year losses.

The retail chain saw pre-tax losses widen to £12.8m in the six months to 31 July from £5.4m a year earlier.

It has slashed 50 jobs across head offices in London, New York and Hong Kong as part of an overhaul, while also shutting its business in Denmark and Sweden, with the loss of five stores and concessions.

But there was some cheer from the UK and wider European business, which saw like-for-like sales rise by 2 per cent thanks to a "resilient" performance from ladieswear and online sales.

French Connection said it would take "further measures" over the next six months to try and stem the losses, but declined to reveal details while its strategic review was ongoing.

Shares slumped more than 12 per cent on today's losses.

The group has been savaged by the recession, which compounded existing trading woes as the group has failed to lure back consumers tired of its FCUK brand in recent years.

Stephen Marks, chairman of French Connection, said: "Our business continues to be severely affected by difficult retail environments in all of our markets around the world.

"In addition to the underlying trading issues we have faced over recent periods, this has had a severe impact on our financial performance during the first six months of the year."

The group is aiming to achieve a "small improvement" on last year's operating profits in the second half.

Underlying savings of 9 per cent - or around £4m - were made in the first half through its cost cutting review and more changes will be taken to get the business back on track, added Mr Marks.

It has also cut back advertising budgets as part of the drive.

French Connection said UK and Europe sales were bolstered by ladieswear and its mail order business Toast, although menswear continued to struggle.

Tight control of stock helped it avoid the need for mid-season sales, according to the group.

It is hoping to maintain the 2 per cent like-for-like retail sales growth in the second half, although the wholesale division is expected to continue struggling.

Wholesale customers have also been hit by the recession and French Connection said curtailed buying budgets were likely to see sales fall 5 per cent in the final six months of the year.

Analysts at Numis Securities upped their forecast for full year losses from £10m to £15m on the back of today's figures.

But they said news of the full strategic review was "an encouraging development".