The Investment Column: New Look

WITH ITS trendy low-priced clothing, New Look ought to be one of the beleaguered high street's more rewarding investments. The discount sector is one of the few parts of the clothing market that is showing any growth, and New Look is one of the few high-street retailers actually growing profits in this cut-throat environment.

That was underlined by yesterday's announcement of a 9 per cent increase in first-half profits to pounds 27m. Like-for-like sales were up by 4.9 per cent in the first half, and although underlying sales are down 1.9 per cent in current trading, this is better than many rivals.

But none of this is reflected in the share price, which fell another 15.75p to 135.5p yesterday, a substantial discount to the 165p issue price at which New Look came to the market 18 months ago.

What is wrong? One key factor is City sentiment turning against high- street retailers, whoever they are. It may also be a reaction against New Look's slightly erratic trading statements.

Yesterday the group reported lower like-for-like sales in current trading, but higher margins. In the spring margins were down, but like-for-like sales were up.

Even so, New Look appears to be doing the right things. It is keeping its prices low while managing its supply chain to help margins. It is also opening larger stores in order to increase its range. The company also confirmed yesterday that it is looking at buying some of the Mothercare stores from Storehouse, although it will not be bidding for the whole chain.

On SG Securities' full-year profit forecast of pounds 46.5m the shares trade on a paltry forward multiple of nine, backed by a solid yield. It would be crazy to sell now, although a meaningful recovery could be some way off. Hold.

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