Debenhams trading nudges over forecasts

Debenhams posted a better than expected performance in underlying sales in the last 18 weeks, proving it could trade well through even the most difficult of conditions.

Shares in the department store group lifted by eight per cent after it said it had enjoyed record sales in the final week before Christmas, as its diverse range of products from cosmetics to clothes and homewares appealed to cash-strapped consumers, while its online business flourished.

The group said its level of discounts had been in line with the previous year, despite many rivals increasing their offers, and that due to a pragmatic approach to the promotional and product mix, its guidance for gross margin would remain unchanged at flat.

"We've succeeded in a very difficult market and have made a good start to the new year," Chief Executive Michael Sharp told reporters. "(This) clearly demonstrates that we can trade well in even the most challenging of environments.

"2011 was my 36th Christmas as a retailer and it's no exaggeration to say that it was probably the most difficult of all I've traded to call."