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Next enjoys a good Christmas

Next, the high street retailer which has transformed itself from a stock market disaster to a star performer over the last few years, continued its march yesterday with an upbeat Christmas trading statement.

Against the background of a patchy consumer recovery, Next said its retail sales from 1 August to 24 December were 17 per cent ahead of the previous year on selling space that was just 2 per cent higher.

The winter sale has been a great success, with some stores selling out of discounted goods already. The sale has proved so popular that in some stores customers have been fainting in the crush.

Larger stores such as the one at the Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, Essex, have had a good five months. Childrens' wear has also performed well, although this is only a small part of Next's business.

Sales at Next Directory were more than 35 per cent ahead of the previous year, with customer numbers up 10 per cent. The performance in the shops was equally bullish, with sales up 20 per cent on average price tags just 3 per cent lower.

"These lower prices have resulted from a planned gross margin reduction of approximately 1 per cent, and the benefits of buying a single range for retail and Next Directory," Next finance director David Keens said Though analysts were not expecting the statement, which was issued at 5.45pm, the quality of the figures did not surprise. "We expected Next to be one of the pick of the bunch," said Nick Bubb of Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley said it was confident that Next would achieve its estimate of £102m pre-tax profits for the year.

Next's statement comes ahead of a flurry of trading statments from some of the country's best-known high street reailers. Boots will issue a statement today followed by Dixons and Storehouse next week.