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Next sales on target as online business outperforms

Total sales at the clothes retailer between 1 August and 24 December rose 3.1% compared with a year earlier, ignoring the effect of rising VAT.Next Directory sales grew 16.9%.
But its High Street business, which sees some two-thirds of sales, recorded a 2.7% fall, sending Next’s share price 4.3% lower in early London trading.Next has seen its share price rise 39% over the past 12 months, easily outperforming a 5% fall in the broader FTSE 100 index.Shares in some other big retailers also fell in the wake of Next’s announcement, which was the first trading update of the year from a major High Street chain.

Home Retail Group – owner of Homebase and Argos – dropped 4.7%, while car accessories chain Halfords was down 3%.
Profit margins
Next reconfirmed its full-year profits forecast at £565m, narrowing the range to plus-or-minus £7m.
The total sales growth figure of 3.1% was in the middle of its previous guidance of 2.5% to 4%, despite the “slightly disappointing” numbers from its 500 stores.

Next expressed uncertainty in its statement as to why the High Street performance had been so weak, particularly considering that last year’s sales had been hurt by cold weather.One possibility cited in its statement was its long-standing policy of not cutting the price of its products in the run-up to Christmas.

“Next’s own admission of disappointment is a setback to its hitherto robust growth story,” said Richard Hunter, head of equities at brokerage Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The fact that the company did not discount its products in the approach to Christmas may have been a factor, whilst the more general consumer malaise has yet to be corroborated by updates from its rivals.

“In addition, higher sales do not necessarily translate to higher profits, so the fact that the company has been able to maintain operating margins may yet play into its hands.”

Richard Perks, analyst at research firm Mintel, confirmed this view.

“These figures from Next are really pretty good I think,” he told the BBC.

“OK, Next may be – in sales terms – held back by the fact that it wasn’t discounting, but in profit terms it will be a lot better off.”

Mr Perks said he was optimistic about retail sales across the UK – predicting a 4% rise in December.

“People are reluctant to cut back any more on retail, and are cutting back elsewhere, particularly on leisure,” although he added that the rising cost of food was still crimping spending.

Next said it was cautiously optimistic about its end of season sales – which began after the end of its latest reporting period – and expected results to be slightly ahead of budget.

The retailer said it expected sales this year to be helped by a probable freeze in the price of its products.

It forecast generating £200m surplus cash in the year ahead, which it said it would return to shareholders via share buybacks.

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Prosecutors to resume their case in Hosni Mubarak’s trial

 Cairo (CNN) — Prosecutors are scheduled to continue their case Wednesday in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is accused of ordering protesters killed during the country’s uprising last year.

The former president also faces corruption charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors started presenting their case Tuesday with their opening statements.
“Mubarak is a tyrant who aimed to hand the rule to his younger son Gamal, who promoted corruption in Egypt, allowing his friends and relatives to destroy the country without accountability,” Suleiman told the court, according to Khaled Abu Bakr, a civil rights lawyer involved in the trial.
As during his previous appearances, Mubarak was wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher, with a green blanket draped over him.
After hearing Suleiman speak for an hour Tuesday, the judge adjourned the court until Wednesday.
Abu Bakr said he expected a verdict “before January 25, the anniversary of the revolution,” referring to the beginning of the uprising that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule in February.
Many Egyptians are critical of the court proceedings and some worry that Mubarak may be acquitted of the murder charges. Five police officers accused of killing protesters were acquitted last week.
Mubarak’s health has been in question since his detention began in April after reports of his cancer and heart problems surfaced in the media.
Former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib El Adly, six of his aides and two of Mubarak’s sons are also on trial on a variety of charges.Sons Gamal and Alaa have also pleaded not guilty.

About 840 people died and more than 6,000 were wounded in the 18 days of uprising that toppled Mubarak, according to Amnesty International.

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