Profits up at Debenhams

Department Chain Debenhams reported&nbsp; a better-than-expected 14 per cent full-year pre-tax profit and saying it had cash for acquisitions.<br /><br />Disappointing retail sales data from the Office for National Statistics cast a shadow over Debenhams&rsquo; news that it had made a profit of &pound;125.2m, driven by a strong demand for its Designers at Debenhams range.<br /><br />Sales at stores open at least a year fell 3.6 per cent, but were up 0.6 per cent in the seven weeks to 17 October.<br /><br />Chief executive Rob Templeman predicted that sales promotions will be as rife this Christmas as they were last year, and warned that the consumer outlook remained uncertain despite signs of economic recovery.<br /><br />&ldquo;Although we think there&rsquo;s some signs the wider macro-economy is improving, we still think it&rsquo;s difficult to predict consumer behaviour,&rdquo; he said. Retail shares have rallied strongly in recent months on hopes of economic recovery. <br /><br />Debenhams, with over 150 stores in Britain and Ireland and more than 50 franchised outlets overseas, also confirmed that chairman John Lovering would retire in March, and brought in Nigel Northridge, chairman of bookmaker Paddy Power, as a non-executive director.<br /><br />Debenhams shares have almost quadrupled in value this year, helped by a &pound;323m equity fundraising in June which put an end to worries about its debts.<br /><br />Templeman said Debenhams had &pound;100m left over from its equity fundraising which, along with a &pound;250m bank facility and annual free cash flows of around &pound;100m, gave it plenty of firepower to make acquisitions. He said: &ldquo;We still have capacity and we still have hunger to look for acquisitions,&rdquo; he said, adding he was interested in both stores and brands, but would not comment on potential targets.&rdquo;