Christmas at Next was at the better end of the retailer’s forecast, with sales for the 58 days until Christmas Eve up 2.9 per cent year on year.
Much of that came from Next Directory, which includes its online arm, rising 7.5 per cent between October 28 and December 24 compared with the same period last year. Next Retail, which comprises stores, climbed 0.5 per cent.
What does that mean for the year so far? Well, total sales have risen 7.7 per cent on 2013, with Next Directory up 12.9 per cent.
As a result, Next has now raised its profit guidance to be “within £10m either side of £775m” - around 11.5 per cent up on 2013, and more than was indicated in October, when the retailer warned that profits would likely be come in anywhere between £750m and £790m.
On the back of this, Next's share price was up 4.2 per cent at pixel time.
However, it entered its end of season sale with “significantly more stock than last year”, suggesting margins could be eaten into.
Looking ahead, Next said the consumer outlook for 2015 was “relatively benign”, with low inflation, an end to real wage decline, healthy credit markets and strong employment combining to “paint a somewhat more positive picture than recent years”.
Despite that the high street giant is being cautious in its sales budgets, noting that it faces “very tough” comparatives for spring and summer, although that will ease off in the second half of the year.
“We are currently budgeting for full price sales growth in 2015/16 to be between 2.5 per cent and 7.5 per cent, with the first half expected to perform at the lower end of the range,” the firm said in a statement. “Profits are expected to grow in line with sales.”
That would see Next’s profits for the year to January 2016 coming in at £795m
As part of its share buyback scheme, which has resulted in 2.2m shares being bought and shareholders receiving a £361m cash surplus on top of ordinary dividends, net debt has risen from £517m to £550m.
A further special dividend of 50p per share will be paid on 2 February, with an ex-dividend date of 15 January.
Next will release its full year results on March 19.