White Christmas boosts Blacks winter sales

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The Independent Online

The severe weather helped Blacks Leisure deliver a 10.2 per cent surge in sales in December, helping to offset a weak summer at the outdoor retail specialist.

Neil Gillis, the chief executive of the operator of the Blacks and Millets chains, also warned he was keen to see a speedy conclusion to the ongoing takeover talks involving the high street group, which he described as a "massive distraction".

Blacks Leisure is the first listed retailer to unveil its Christmas trading and while its performance provided the sector with a boost, it was heavily influenced by purchases of winter clothing during the snow.

Mr Gillis said a "gamble" to re-order a lot more stock at the end of November had "worked". Its 12 new format Blacks stores also continue to deliver "strong sales". But total sales at Blacks Leisure between 28 August and 30 December fell to £85.4m, down from £95.8m a year ago. This reflected its closure of 88 underperforming Blacks and Millets shops as part of a restructuring completed in late 2009. Like-for-like sales at the group fell by 0.1 per cent from the end of August.

On the day VAT went up to 20 per cent, Mr Gillis downplayed its impact on the company, explaining the average purchase in its shops was £55.

Blacks Leisure said it remains in talks with a number of suitors regarding an acquisition of the whole, or parts of, the business, following unsolicited offers in the autumn. One interested party is thought to be Lloyds Development Capital, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group.

Mr Gillis said that if Blacks was unable to recommend an offer to shareholders "relatively soon, we will want to terminate the [acquisition] process".

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