Sears looks at selling two shoe shop chains

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The Independent Online
DIANE COYLE

and NIGEL COPE

Sears, the retail congolerate that includes Selfridges and Freemans, is considering a further reduction in its sprawling portfolio, with the Saxone and Curtess shoe shops likely to be sold or converted to other formats. Some analysts expect Liam Strong, chief executive, to make an announcement on Thursday with the company's Christmas trading statement.

Saxone and Curtess are old, underperforming business that Sears is keen to dispose of to concentrate on its new concepts, which include Shoe Express and Shoe City.

Possible buyers include Stephen Hinchliffe's Facia group which has already bought the Freeman Hardy and Willis chain from Sears. However, it is understood that other buyers have also come forward.

Sears' figures are expected to show that, although the Selfridges department store has enjoyed strong sales, other parts of the group have experienced mixed fortunes.

Other figures due this week will show that high street trading was more buoyant over Christmas than many retailers had dared hope. Dixons, the electrical group, is expected to report a strong rise in profits and a good start to its winter sale. Figures due from the British Retail Consortium tomorrow will show a healthy sales increase. Other data from the Finance and Leasing Association will show that it was a "plastic-happy" Christmas, with more shoppers making purchases with credit cards and in-store charge cards.

The association's members, which represent almost all consumer credit outside the banks and building societies, reported total November spending on plastic amounting to pounds 1.8bn. This was 20 per cent higher than the previous year.

Martin Hall, director general, said: "Our analysis of November spending shows consumers used plastic more this Christmas than ever before."

The FLA says in a report out today there had been a particularly strong increase in instalment credit, up 36 per cent year-on-year to pounds 202m in November. There were also early signs of recovery in consumer demand for cars. Financing for car purchase rose 8 per cent to pounds 251m. The used car market performed particularly well.

This week will bring the first snapshots of retail spending in December. The BRC sales monitor tomorrow will be followed by the CBI's distributive trades survey on Friday. Official retail sales figures for December are due out next week.

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