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Next upgrades profit forecast after online sales surge

12 January 2018

The Co-op also enjoyed a bumper Christmas, with sales up 6.2% at established stores in the two weeks to 1 January.

Both online and physical stores "experienced an improvement in sales" in the run-up to Christmas, "with our Online business performing particularly well", Next said in a trading update.

The fashion retailer soared as it posted a 1.5% rise in total full price sales between November 1 and December 24, helped by the colder weather. A fall of 0.3% had been forecast.

"We believe part of this improvement has been down to much colder weather leading up to Christmas", the company said.

Stock for Next's end-of-season sale, including the stock the business puts into its Black Friday event, was said to be "well controlled" and down 6 per cent on the past year.

"Many of the challenges we faced last year look set to continue into the year ahead", the FTSE 100 group said, pointing to the affect of inflation on cost prices and household incomes as well as the ongoing increase in spending on "experiences" at the expense of clothing. Its shares have fallen 7 per cent over the a year ago.

"As much as today's update is good news in itself (positive full price sales, outlook positive), and adds to share buyback and special dividend goodies, management's update-by-update tinkering of guidance (that's four in a row now), and sharp share price reactions only goes to reinforce how shareholders remain at the mercy of the United Kingdom consumer from one season to the next and exposed to short-termism".

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However, chief executive Lord Wolfson said the retailer was now much more optimistic about its prospects compared with this time past year when it issued a profit warning.

Still, Next forecast a profit for the year to January 2019 at £705 million - meaning it is expecting yet another dip in annual profits.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said the sales split between online and stores was "again stark", with sales at Next stores down 7.2% for the entire year, while online rose by 10.4%.

Lord Wolfson said that inflation in clothing prices would fall to 2% in the first half of this year and disappear completely in the second.

Next's shares were also supported by its decision to return an expected £300mln in surplus cash next year to shareholders through share buybacks rather than special dividends.

Next shares climbed 9% on Wednesday morning above 4,900p but by early afternoon had settled to 4,814p, a rise of nearly 7% on the day.

George Salmon at Hargreaves Lansdown said the results were good news for investors across the retail sector.

Next upgrades profit forecast after online sales surge