The bumpy ride continues for retail stocks

Marion Dakers

SEX sells, as do iPads – but only when the weather is good. These are the new tenets of the high street, borne out in mixed results from some of the biggest names in retail yesterday.

WH Smith has been hostage to the fortunes of saucy novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, the enormous sales of which in 2012 have made 2013’s like-for-likes seem lacklustre.

Meanwhile Home Retail Group and Laura Ashley both blamed the recent cold snap for keeping customers away from patio sets and capri pants respectively. Luckily the former’s range of in-demand electronics has prevented an overall fall in sales.

What all three retailers have in common is a recent drive to slash costs at the same time their customers are looking to do the same with their own spending – a state of affairs that will continue for years, according to today’s CEBR figures. And the fragile economic recovery means swings from profit warning to upgrade and back the other way in the space of a few quarters – as seen by Home Retail – can stem from a cold snap, or a surprise best-seller, or the late launch of an Apple gadget.

Even if the retailer’s recovery plans are solid, there are plenty of uncertainties to knock the shares off course. In the slew of high street firms reporting yesterday’s case, the overall direction looks good – shares are up 84.5 per cent at HRG, 41.7 per cent at WH Smith and 17 per cent at Laura Ashley in the past 12 months. Despite the consumer gloom, all three are beating the FTSE 100.

Marion Dakers is deputy news editor