Belfast Telegraph

High Street horrors go on as firms fear for future

Northern Ireland house prices have fallen by nearly 11% in the past year, making it the second cheapest UK region for housing, a survey by Nationwide has said.

RETAILERS came under mounting share pressure as gloomy sales figures confirmed dire conditions on Britain's high street.

Mothercare and Laura Ashley became the latest to report sales falls, prompting a second day of pain for retail shares after this week's profit warning from PC World and Currys parent, Dixons Retail.

Wine retailer Oddbins said it will go into administration after the Government's tax department refused to back a rescue deal.

The struggling off-licence hoped to restructure its debts through a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), but HM Revenue -amp; Customs - a significant creditor - would not support the move.

A statement from Oddbins said the firm now expects to enter into administration on April 4, with its 400 staff fearing for their futures.

Babycare chain Mothercare slumped as much as 10% after it said UK sales remained in the red - down 2.4% in its final quarter - and revealed profit margins were taking a bigger-than-expected hit as difficult conditions force it to discount stock.

Clothing and furnishings company Laura Ashley was also deep in the red, with shares down 13% as news of a 4.2% drop in recent UK like-for-like sales overshadowed a near-doubling in full-year profits.

The flurry of grim updates from retailers has sparked fears for the sector over the year ahead as consumers rein in spending in the face of Government cuts, tax hikes and soaring inflation.

Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "Consumer confidence remains extremely weak, thereby maintaining concern that consumers will be very cautious in their spending over the coming months in the face of serious headwinds."

Official figures earlier this week showed household disposable income fell for the first time in 30 years at the end of 2010 after wages failed to keep pace with inflation.

Dixons shares fell another 7% after plunging 18% on Wednesday following news that sales declines in the UK and Ireland worsened to 11% since Christmas.

The rout impacted players across the industry, with specialist retailers and department stores impacted.

Next and Marks -amp; Spencer suffered more declines in the FTSE 100 Index, while elsewhere Debenhams fell 4%, Sportsworld parent Sports Direct International dropped three percent and WH Smith and car parts and bicycle chain Halfords both dropped two percent.

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