Shoppers flock to Next despite the cold spring

Kasmira Jefford
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BRITAIN’S second biggest clothing retailer Next reported a better-than-expected rise in first quarter sales yesterday, despite a “volatile” and “abnormally” cold spring.

Shares rose more than four per cent yesterday after the FTSE group said that total brand sales rose 2.2 per cent in the 14 weeks to 4 May, with 1.5 per cent coming from the opening of new store space.

Sales at Next Direct, its online and catalogue business, rose 8.9 per cent which helped offset a 1.9 per cent drop in retail sales across the group’s 500-plus stores.

Chief executive Lord Wolfson said trading “had been volatile and particularly poor” through March and early April, but then bounced back when the weather turned and temperatures started to rise.

“It is apparent that the poor March figures were down to an abnormally cold spring, equally the good weeks since mid April have been boosted by pent up demand from the previous month,” Lord Wolfson said.

But he warned that neither period was indicative of any significant change in the underlying economy.

“We anticipate that the continuing decline in real earnings will depress discretionary spending for at least the next eighteen months, if not longer,” he said.

The group maintained its full-year pre-tax profit guidance of between £615m to £665m compared with £622m last year and held its sales range of between one per cent to four per cent higher.

Shares closed up 4.4 per cent at 4,601p yesterday.