HMV Christmas sales hit by severe weather

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The Independent Online

Music chain HMV delivered more dismal sales figures today after its peak trading season was "significantly undermined" by severe weather.

The group reported a 13.6% slump in HMV's like-for-like sales in UK and Ireland in the five weeks to January 1 and said profits for the year to April were set to be near the bottom of the current range of City forecasts.

As well as the disruption caused by snow and ice before Christmas, HMV said its core entertainment markets remained weak and underlined the urgency with which it needed to carry out its turnaround strategy.

The group, which also owns the Waterstone's book shop chain, admitted it is facing a battle to meet a forthcoming test on its bank covenants.

It pledged aggressive action on costs and said it would close 60 stores across its UK businesses over the next 12 months and seek a further £10 million a year of cost savings. It has more than 400 HMV stores in five countries and 311 Waterstone's bookstores in the UK and Ireland.

Faced with competition from supermarkets in its core CD and DVD markets, the group has branched into new areas such as technology sales, recently including Apple's iPad, as well as entertainment-related products.

It has also pushed into fashion, mobile phones and Blu-ray discs, while its swoop for festivals and gig venue owner MAMA Group cemented its position in the fast-growing live market.

HMV had hoped that a line-up including Take That and Cheryl Cole albums, DVD releases such as Toy Story 3 and Shrek 4, and new games Call Of Duty: Black Ops and FIFA 11 would boost trading over Christmas after a 16.1% drop in like-for-like sales in the six months to the end of October.

However, chief executive Simon Fox said the anticipated improvement in sales failed to materialise due to the weather and challenging markets.

He added: "Whilst HMV has had a challenging year to date, it remains a profitable and cash-generative business and a powerful entertainment brand.

"The pace of change in the markets in which we operate underlines the urgency with which we must continue to transform this business."

One area of encouragement came from Waterstone's, which improved sales to show a 0.4% drop on a like-for-like basis in the five weeks to January 1.

HMV's shares slumped by another 20% today and left the company's stock market value at just over £100 million.

David Jeary, a retail analyst at Investec Securities, said the company failed to improve UK sales despite easier comparatives with a year ago.

He added: "While adverse weather undoubtedly was unhelpful to the business in the UK, the core HMV division remains under considerable stress as a format and this must raise questions over its long-term future."

HMV said profits for the year to April were likely to be around the lower end of current market expectations of between £46 million and £60 million.