Half-year profits jump 42% at Laura Ashley

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The Independent Online

Laura Ashley, the recovering floral frocks and home furnishings group, reported a 42 per cent jump in half-year profits to £2.1m yesterday but warned of a deteriorating outlook following last week's terrorist attacks in the US.

Jim Bellingham, chief financial officer, said sales "collapsed" in the early part of last week. Though trading has started to recover it is still not back to normal levels. Mr Bellingham said the company's view of the short-term future had changed as a result. "Prior to the events of last week we didn't see the recession in the US spreading to the UK. However, in view of the present uncertain economic conditions we remain cautious about the outlook for the year as a whole."

Underlying womenswear sales in the seven weeks to 15 September were flat on the same period last year. This compares with an 11 per cent year-on-year increase in the six months to 28 July.

Laura Ashley has been restoring its fortunes by introducing more casual ranges, offering lower-priced goods such as £12.99 T-shirts and revamping stores. It has also introduced swimwear and more of its "Petite" merchandise. The group's home furnishings business has been booming and it is also planning up to 30 more concessions in Homebase DIY stores.

There is no interim dividend but the company is considering re-starting dividend payments for the first time in four years. The shares fell 2.25p to 25.75p.