Floral firm Laura Ashley sales get a spring time lift from in-store discounts

FASHION and homewares retailer Laura Ashley said yesterday its total UK retail sales in the first 17 weeks of the current financial year rose 8.4 per cent, aided by promotional activity and an increase in retail space.<br /><br />&ldquo;Despite the challenging economic environment, the board remains cautiously optimistic for the current year,&rdquo; the company said.<br /><br />Like-for-like sales grew 6.9 per cent, while e-commerce and mail order sales rose 11 per cent in the first 17 weeks of the company&rsquo;s current financial year ending January 2010.<br /><br />Continued promotions in the firm famed for its floral patterns have driven sales growth, although the group has slowed the pace of its store opening programme in the tougher climate.<br /><br />Numis Securities analyst Nick Coulter raised pre-tax profits estimates this year from &pound;10.2m to &pound;11.5m. Numis said: &ldquo;The Laura Ashley story continues to be underpinned by a strong balance sheet and attractive dividend yield.&rdquo;<br /><br />The broker&rsquo;s upgrade lifted the group&rsquo;s share price by 9.7 per c ent to 17p.