BUDGET clothing retailer New Look said yesterday it snatched market share from high street rivals Marks & Spencer and Next in the year to end March, as the recession caused consumers to seek cheaper fashion alternatives.<br /><br />The group, owned jointly by founder Tom Singh and private equity giants Permira and Apax, reported a pre-tax profit of £2.6m during the year, compared to a £1.8m loss for the previous year.<br /><br />Total sales during the year saw a 14.9 per cent boost to £1.3bn, the group said.<br /><br />This included a credit crunch-defying 1.4 per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the key UK and Ireland markets.<br /><br />Chief executive Carl McPhail said New Look will create 1,800 jobs as it adds 250,000 square feet of selling space this year, while rivals consider slashing headcounts to cut costs. He also outlined a programme of aggressive international expansion.<br /><br /> “We’re very close to a deal in Ukraine and very close to a deal in Poland,” said McPhail, adding he expects the deals to be done in the next few months.<br /><br />He said the group will open 23 stores in France and Belgium this year and extend the business in the Middle East and Russia. The group opened its first store in Egypt in April.<br /><br />New distribution hubs in Singapore and Turkey, which commence operations this year, will allow the group to expand in eastern Europe, China and India over the coming years.<br /><br />Group chairman Phil Wrigley said the group was well placed for future success, and that it would continue to pick up market share. <br /><br />“It was a year that saw a number of well known names disappearing from our high street forever. Such market conditions can also present significant opportunities,” he added.