Thorntons says the end of recession is now in sight

CHOCOLATE retailer Thorntons yesterday posted a 4.5 per cent fall in full-year profit, as tighter margins offset a rise in sales, but said the recession appeared to be easing and trade was improving.<br /><br />The 98-year-old chocolate maker on reported a pre-tax profit of &pound;81m for the year to June 27, including a one-off &pound;1.8m pension scheme credit, while sales grew 3.2 per cent to &pound;214.8m<br /><br />Thorntons, which has 379 stores, said sales grew 6.1 per cent in the second-half and that trade had stabilised.<br /><br />&ldquo;We&rsquo;re seeing early signs that the worst of the recession is over,&rdquo; chief executive Mike Davies said. &ldquo;I wouldn&rsquo;t have said that prior to June, but sales continue to make good progress.&rdquo;<br /><br />The company said margins in the first half of the year in particular had been hit by the consumer downturn before Christmas, but trading improved in the second half.<br /><br />Broker Investec, encouraged by Thorntons&rsquo; second-half performance, upgraded its 2010 and 2011 pretax profit forecasts by six per cent and maintained a &ldquo;buy&rdquo; rating on the group.<br /><br />Over the year Thorntons&rsquo; own store sales fell two per cent on a like-for-like basis.