Business

Next braced for 'tougher times' after poor festive performance

Fashion and homewares giant Next says it is bracing for "tougher times" in 2017 after a worse-than-expected festive performance

HIGH street giant Next says it is bracing for "tougher times" in 2017 as it warned over sales and profits after a worse-than-expected festive performance.

The fashion and homewares giant said sales in the 54 days to December 24 fell 0.4 per cent, defying hopes of a fourth quarter turnaround, while it posted a 7 per cent plunge in end-of-season clearance sales.

Next said profits for the year to January 2017 were expected to fall by around 3.6 per cent, and sales and profits would remain under pressure in a "challenging" year ahead.

Next said sales trading woes were set to deepen in 2017, sending profits tumbling potentially as much as 14 per cent in a worst case scenario for the year to January 2018.

It repeated warnings over cost pressures from the Brexit-hit pound, which the group has already said will probably see it hike prices by up to 5 per cent.

This, together with a continuing shift away from spending on clothing and footwear, could see total full-price sales in the range of minus 4.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent, the group warned.

A central forecast of a 1.5 per cent drop in sales would be "marginally worse" than the current year, although it hopes for a boost of around 1 per cent from overseas revenues due to the weak pound.

Next - headed by pro-Brexit chief executive Lord Wolfson - also took aim at the Government over its handling of the UK's exit from the EU.

It said there was "little visibility of the approach the UK Government will be taking to Brexit".

The group had been hoping for a fourth quarter rise in sales after a difficult 2016, described by one analyst recently as its "annus horribilis".

But it said the end-of-year blow meant profits were expected to come in at £792 million for the 12 months to January 2017, depending on January trade, which would be a 3.6 per cent fall on a year earlier.

The group added: "The year ahead looks set to be another challenging year; therefore we are preparing the company for tougher times."

Next shares plunged as much as 14 per cent after the update in a dismal start to the sector's festive reporting season.

Shares in Next and other retailers had already fallen on Tuesday ahead of the update after poor footfall figures suggested a poor start to the January clearance sales.

Next - seen as a retail bellwether - said it suffered a 3.5 per cent fall in full-price sales across its high street stores in the 54 days to Christmas Eve.

It saw a better performance across its Directory catalogue arm, with sales up 5.1 per cent, but this was not enough to offset the fall across its store estate.

The chain expects full-price sales in the current year to fall by around 1 per cent.

Its forecasts for 2017/18 show profits expected in the range of £680 million to £780 million - a fall of between 14 per cent and 2 per cent.

Richard Lim, chief executive of consultancy Retail Economics, branded the Next update "miserable".

He added: "These latest figures from Next confirm that underlying conditions on the high street remain desperate for clothing and footwear retailers."

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