MFI blames summer heat for static sales

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MFI, the UK's largest furniture retailer, said yesterday that sales had stalled over the past six months because customers had deferred shopping trips during this summer's heatwave.

The gloomy news sent the shares falling to their lowest level in more than six years. MFI yesterday said like-for-like sales were flat over the past 20 weeks, a slowdown from 5 per cent growth in the first half of its financial year. Total sales were up 3 per cent, but this compares with a 10 per cent gain in the first half.

Mr Hancock said the hot weather this summer contributed to "a volatile retail environment. If temperatures are 100F, customers do not go shopping for kitchens in air-conditioned sheds," he said.

The company said there had been signs of improvement in sales in October but its shares fell 13 per cent, wiping £135m off the company's value. The City also feared that the imminent prospect of a rise in interest rates would dampen consumer demand.

But Mr Hancock said a small rise was unlikely to affect business. "We are enjoying historically low rates so I don't think a quarter or a half point is going to make much of a change," he said."People have money to spend."

The company said yesterday revenue in the first 44 weeks of its financial year increased 16 per cent to £1.3bn. Howdens, its business for builders, led growth in the company, where like-for-like sales rose 28 per cent.