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Debenhams bucks gloomy retail trend
DEPARTMENT store Debenhams bucked the retail downturn by reporting a rise in sales, while the picture looked a lot more gloomy for JD Sports Fashion, who announced yesterday it will shut more Blacks stores.
Despite the Olympics impacting on many fashion retailers, Debenhams bucked the trend to see online growth of 40 per cent and an improved share of the under-pressure womenswear market report a 3.7 per cent hike in like-for-like sales in the ten weeks to September 1.
The update was more upbeat than Next, which recently admitted that August and September had been unusually slow, with womenswear particularly badly hit.
The performance, which marks an improvement on the previous 16 weeks, came despite the company's earlier warning that the Olympics could disrupt trading.
The news comes as Bury-based JD Sports Fashion warned it will shut more Blacks Leisure stores after the chain it rescued from administration contributed to a sharp fall in profits.
The group, which bought the business for £20m in January, has already closed 93 of the worst performing stores but a further 50 are still under threat as it looks for a long-term estate of 150 sites.
It will also ditch the Millets name as JD plans to use Blacks, which sells own-brands such as Peter Storm and Eurohike, as its single outdoor marque.
As expected, Blacks recorded a £10m loss in the six months to July 28, helping to cut JD's profits to £2.9m from £20.1m a year ago.
JD said it had inherited a business with a severe lack of stock in many core lines as well as an excessively large and overrented store portfolio.
While the company sees a profitable future for the business, it warned that margins in the second half will come under pressure as a result of the need to clear camping products following the wet summer.
The strong performance at its sports division comes as rival JJB Sports has been hit by dire trading, forcing it to put itself up for sale.
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct International is believed to be favourite to buy JJB's best stores in a pre-pack administration deal, with JD's interest in the Wigan-based business thought to be lukewarm.
Shares in JD were down 2 per cent yesterday even though it said it was well placed to deliver results for the year in line with City expectations.
However, it was a different story for Debenhams, whose shares were slightly lower after the update but have risen by more than 80 per cent in the past year as the group rolled out its turnaround plan.
The group said profits for the year to September 1 will be in-line with City expectations and ahead of last year's £157.7 million.
Last night, analysts said Debenhams, which operates 164 stores in the UK and Ireland and its Magasin du Nord chain in Denmark, had ended its financial year on a high.
Singer Capital Markets analyst Matthew McEachran said: "We don't believe that Debenhams experienced much a drag if any from the summer Games."
But the group, regarded as one of the high street's most aggressive discounters, confirmed that gross margins for the year would be down 0.3 percentage points as it dropped prices amid fierce competition.
Chief executive Michael Sharp said: "To deliver like-for-like sales growth in these extremely challenging market conditions is highly creditable.
"We do not anticipate a significant change in the economic environment in the near future but we expect to continue to make progress in 2013."