Concern over Debenhams figures

INVESTORS are keen for reassurance over trading conditions at department store chain Debenhams after rival Next last week warned of an “unusually quiet” August and September.

Next spooked investors with news of its summer sales slowdown, sending its shares sharply lower.

John Lewis painted a more rosy picture when it reported a 9.2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the six months to 28 July, 
although figures released on Friday showed a slowdown to 4.3 per cent in the week to 8 September.

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With clothing and womenswear in particular having taken a hit in recent months, there may be some consequences for Debenhams.

The group, which reports fourth-quarter figures on Tuesday, has delivered robust sales growth in recent months as its recently-
appointed chief executive, Michael Sharp, leads a turnaround at the chain.

Sales rose 3.1 per cent in the 16 weeks to 23 June, against 0.3 per cent in the previous half-year.

Sharp has been focusing on improving sales growth rather than margins – a strategy that has paid off, according to analysts

Half-year profits rose by 1.4 per cent to £127.1 million and Debenhams’ share price has leapt by 87 per cent in the past 12 months.

Analysts are expecting sales to remain positive in the final quarter, although a weaker clothing market is set to ease growth slightly.

Fraser Ramzan, an analyst at Nomura, is pencilling in a 2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales growth.

Peel Hunt analyst John Stevenson noted: “By Christmas, Debenhams will have completed 32 store refurbishments, with a further 15 a year pencilled in for 2013 and 2014.”