Matalan boosted by 'impressive' Christmas

Fashion and homewares retailer Matalan sweetened its £1.5 billion auction today by revealing further strong growth over the Christmas period.

The group, which is thought to have attracted interest from at least five major private equity firms, described festive trading as impressive after like-for-like sales rose 13.7% in the five weeks to January 2.

This was stronger than the trend seen in the autumn and came despite tough comparatives with positive trading figures seen a year earlier.

Chief executive Alistair McGeorge said: "The shopping experience for our customers continues to improve as we innovate and refresh across our stores."

A sale of the business would net hundreds of millions of pounds in profits for founder John Hargreaves, who took Matalan private in an £827 million deal backed by £410 million of debt three years ago.

The company, which has 205 stores, has shown resilience in the recession as its cut-price clothes and homewares attract cost-conscious customers.

Operating profits reached £102 million in the year to February 28 - up from £89.4 million a year earlier.

In its most recent trading period, like-for-like sales were up by 9.3% in the 13 weeks to January 2, with total sales ahead 10.4% to £362 million.

Mr McGeorge said the company continued with its normal promotional stance and had not resorted to the deeper discounting tactics seen elsewhere.

Matalan's end of season sale, which launched on Christmas Eve, also performed strongly and meant the company was left with less stock than previous years.