Belfast Telegraph

Next sales fall 5.9% in 'difficult' third quarter

Retail giant Next revealed further trading woes as it said its high street sales fell 5.9% in the third quarter.

The fashion chain said full-price sales slumped as much as 7% in August in the wake of a large end-of-season sale the month before.

But the group, which had already warned over a "difficult" third quarter, said trading had improved since September, with full-price sales rising by 1.3% in October.

Overall sales across its stores and Next Directory arm fell 3.5% in the three months to October 31, with sales flat across the online and catalogue division.

Next said the third-quarter performance has marginally lowered its central full-year sales expectations, with the group now forecasting a range from a fall of 1.75% to a rise of 1.25%.

Next boss Lord Wolfson said earlier this year that 2016 was set to be the "'toughest we have faced since 2008'', warning over a shift in consumer spending away from fashion towards eating out and travel.

He has also recently cautioned that Next may have to hike its prices by up to 5% next year as it faces surging costs from the Brexit-hit pound.

The group said the third quarter was particularly painful as it followed a "much larger" end-of-season sale in July, as well as tough comparisons from a year earlier, when September was its best month.

Fashion chains have also been knocked by an unseasonably warm start to autumn, which dented demand for warmer clothing ranges.

But despite the sales blow, Next said its central full-year profits outlook remained unchanged at a mid-point of £805 million thanks to better-than-expected cost savings.

Its profits forecast range - from £785 million to £825 million - pencils in a worst-case scenario of a fall of 4.4% to a rise of 0.5% on the year before.

Analyst George Salmon, at Hargreaves Lansdown, said 2016 was becoming an "annus horribilis" for Next.

But shares in Next leapt 4% higher as the company's update signalled the trading slump was easing off, with sales higher in October.

Jonathan Pritchard, at Peel Hunt, said: "Like-for-like sales are still negative but not in free-fall , and we believe that there is pent-up demand in the clothing sector.

"These aren't vintage times, but Next is in good enough form to ride that wave."