Primark’s Xmas alarm bells over ‘challenging’ November sales

The owner of Primark – one of the high street’s best performers since the financial crisis – has warned of “challenging” sales at the discount fashion chain in the run-up to Christmas.

Associated British Foods (ABF) issued the update ahead of its AGM and a month after its last financial results reported a hit to demand from unseasonably warm weather.

ABF said on Friday that while comparable sales were up fractionally in September and October, lower footfall combined with warm temperatures to knock sales.

It marked chilly news for the UK’s troubled high streets at the most important time of the retail calendar following a year that has seen Toys R Us and Maplin go to the wall.

Debenhams has seen its market value plunge by more than 60 percent this year
Debenhams is closing dozens of stores to help fund a turnaround plan

Other chains, such as House of Fraser, have been rescued from collapse with its new owner, Mike Ashley, using an exclusive interview with Sky News this week to demand more help for the high street.

Scores of other well-known names have been closing stores and seeking cheaper rent deals with landlords.

The sector has endured a storm on two fronts – weaker consumer spending in the run-up to Brexit and a surge in costs from minimum wage rules and business rates to higher rents.

ABF stopped short of issuing any kind of profit alert but shares were down 2.1% in early deals – putting some pressure on retail shares as the FTSE 100 recovered from its worst fall in percentage terms since the Brexit vote.

The company’s statement said chairman Michael McLintock would tell the shareholder meeting: “At this early stage in our new financial year, sales and profit for the first 8 weeks of trading for the group were in line with expectations.

“However, during November Primark trading was challenging, in a tough retail market, but with careful inventory management and improved margins, our expectation for the increase in Primark profit is unchanged.

The fire has gutted the historic Belfast building which housed Primark
Fire destroyed the historic Belfast building which housed Primark in August

“I reiterate the Group outlook statement for the current financial year that was included in the annual report.”

The company confirmed it was to open a new store in Belfast on Saturday following the fire which gutted its Bank Buildings home in August.

Its statement added that Primark’s selling space expansion would continue despite the squeeze on sales and Brexit uncertainty.

“Following the opening of a store in Belfast tomorrow, we will be trading from 364 stores and a total selling space of 15.1m sq ft.”

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