Next posts 3.9% rise in sales

 

Next posted a 3.9 per cent rise in sales for November and December today as the retailer weathered the difficult conditions on the high street.

Shares opened 4 per cent higher after the chain said the festive performance meant it was on track for profits growth at the top end of expectations.

The group was driven by a strong online performance, with Directory revenues up by 11.2 per cent between November 1 and December 24. Store sales were better than many City expectations, at 0.8 per cent higher than a year ago.

Despite the progress, chief executive Simon Wolfson warned trading conditions were likely to remain difficult this year as wage growth continues to lag behind inflation.

He said: “On balance, we expect the consumer environment to remain subdued but steady.”

John Lewis yesterday kicked off the festive trading updates with a 13 per cent hike in like-for-like sales after a record pre-Christmas week and a milestone online performance.

Next said group pre-tax profits for the year to January were now expected to jump by between 7.1 per cent and 9.6 per cent, taking the figure to between £611 million and £625 million.

It said the better-than-expected performance reflected cost controls, less marked-down stock in the end of the season sale and better margins.

Freddie George, research analyst at Seymour Pierce stockbrokers, said: “We believe the company was one of the winners over Christmas, helped by a strong range geared to the colder weather.”

Next, which has more than 500 shops, plans to create a further 250,000sq ft of retail space this year, including a net increase of 10 new shops, and will continue to grow its Directory operation in the UK and overseas.

It has forecast sales growth of between 1.5 per cent and 4 per cent for the forthcoming financial year, with underlying profits up by a similar level.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said the Directory business remained the “jewel in the crown” of Next.

But he said: “On a more cautious note, the company remains embroiled in a fiercely competitive sector where the consumer is acutely aware of making cost-conscious decisions.”

PA

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