Moss Bros back in black as City upturn lifts profits

The return of confidence in the City and financial markets has led to an increased demand for quality-branded suits, helping to lift sales at the once-struggling Moss Bros.

The menswear retailer, which also owns Cecil Gee and Hugo Boss, yesterday said it would return to profit in the first half of its current financial year - the first time since 2000. Like-for-like sales climbed 9 per cent in the past 16 weeks and the group's gross margin improved by one percentage point.

Philip Mountford, the chief executive, said: "It is not just the business sector that is buying suits, lots of young television presenters are wearing more formal clothes and that is having a knock-on effect in what would be our fashion sales."

He has spearheaded a turnaround of the business after sales began to falter, and has streamlined and refocused the company on its three core brands.

The performance of Moss Bros is in marked contrast to other high street retailers, which are seeing sluggish sales amid a slowdown in consumer spending. Mr Mountford said: "It is not easy out there on the high street. You only have to look at the sales numbers of other retailers, such as Austin Reed and Marks & Spencer. Even Next reported like-for-likes of only 3 per cent. But even our casualwear is seeing an upturn and we have no concerns about the trading environment or consumer spending."

He expects sales to continue to grow through the rest of the year, but at more moderate levels of about 5 to 6 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Analysts are expecting pre-tax profits of up to £4m for the year to end of January. Moss Bros shares closed up 3.5p to 73.5p.

Analysts at Seymour Pierce believe it is the Moss Bros brand that is driving sales, but said the turnaround in the performance of the group was impressive. Rhys Williams, a retail and textiles analyst at the broker, said: "It is pleasing to see that despite the difficult high street, Moss Bros has continued to produce strong growth."

The company is the subject of repeated takeover speculation. Mr Mountford said yesterday that he was not in contact with Shami Ahmed, the entrepreneur with a 22 per cent stake in Moss Bros, who is rumoured to be interested in mounting a takeover bid for the group.

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