Knowingly undersold? John Lewis profits fall 15 per cent - but not because of Brexit

Emma Haslett
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Christmas Sale Results Are Announced
John Lewis sales fell in the first half of the year (Source: Getty)

You know things are bad when the chattering classes stop spending: today John Lewis admitted things had gone downhill in the first half as market conditions worsened.

The figures

Profit before tax and exceptional items fell 14.7 per cent to £81.9m in the six months to the end of July, despite a 3.1 per cent rise in gross sales, to £5.27bn.

Although like-for-like sales at Waitrose fell one per cent, the figure rose 3.1 per cent at its department stores.

Meanwhile, operating profit before exceptional items fell 10.5 per cent to £121.3m at Waitrose, and 31.2 per cent to £32.4m at John Lewis.

Net debt rose 17.3 per cent to £549.3m during the period.

Read more: Wireless headphone sales have soared at John Lewis after iPhone 7 launch

Why it's interesting

If you want to know what the middle classes are doing with their money, look no further than John Lewis and Waitrose.

The company admitted today that market conditions had been tough - but emphasised that it wasn't because of the Brexit vote, which had had "little quantifiable impact on sales so far", insisted chairman Charlie Mayfield (despite what the retailer has previously said).

"Instead, there are far-reaching changes taking place in society, in retail and in the workplace that have much greater implications."

It's worth pointing out that the brand's first-half profits always tend to be lower, with the second half typically accounting for at least two-thirds of annual profits.

But "exceptional" property write-downs as it shifted towards existing stores in Waitrose didn't help that bottom line - nor did investment in IT, distribution and pay.

There's scope for more turbulence ahead: last week John Lewis chief executive Andy Street confirmed he was standing for mayor of the West Midlands - if he wins, he'll step down from his post.

But the retailer said it will continue increase the resilience of its balance sheet to market shocks and build its financial firepower.

What John Lewis said

Mayfield added:

Our ownership structure makes it especially important that we manage the partnership carefully and thoughtfully for the long term and our plans anticipate the impact of these bigger changes. Evidence of that is already showing within these results and will become increasingly evident as we implement our long-term strategy.

In short

A surprisingly tough few months for a retailer usually regarded as a bellwether of the middle classes.

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