Signet finds some high street sparkle

Signet unveiled a sparkling set of results yesterday, but offered no fresh news on the impending sale of its H Samuel and Ernest Jones jewellery chains.

Announcing tripled profits of pounds 25m for last year, Signet chairman Jim McAdam said he sensed more consumer optimism on the high street. "There is a bit more confidence around than there was but is very early days and it is not clear if can be sustained."

He said the two UK businesses were "only for sale at the right price" and though he declined to put a deadline on the sale, analysts expected a deal within a few weeks. A shortlist of bidders drawn up last week will be sent more detailed information on the companies.

The most eye-catching performance came from the group's more upmarket Ernest Jones chain, which the rival Goldsmiths group is interested in acquiring. Boosted by a pounds 4m refurbishment programme, like-for-like sales in the 167 stores increased by 4 per cent last year and by 24 per cent in the 10 weeks since the beginning of February.

The mass market H Samuel chain, which is thought to be coveted by Argos, had a tough time with comparative sales down by 3 per cent. The company is planning to test a new look in 15 stores in the summer with the view to extending it to all 429 shops if successful.

The American division, Sterling, increased profits by almost 40 per cent to pounds 46m.

The City has marked the shares up by 200 per cent since the start of the year. They closed 1p higher yesterday at 30.25p.

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