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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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Asian markets down on European discord

 Asian markets down on European discord

HONG KONG: Asian markets mostly fell on Friday as a meeting between the eurozone’s three biggest economies highlighted their differences on finding a solution to the region’s debt crisis.

Traders remained nervous at the end of a week that saw fears over Europe deepen as the yields on Italian and Spanish bonds sat dangerously high and even Germany — the bloc’s pillar — failed to sell all its bonds at auction.

Tokyo was flat, edging down 5.17 points to end at 8,160.01, while Sydney shed 1.48 percent, or 59.90 points, to end at 3,984.3 and Seoul closed 1.04 percent, or 18.66 points, lower at 1,776.40.

Shanghai was 0.60 percent off and Hong Kong fell 1.21 percent in the afternoon.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy on Thursday met to discuss plans to address the two-year-old debt crisis in a bid to sooth markets, which have been hammered over fears of a collapse of the eurozone and another global downturn. (AFP)

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Tablets, e-readers closing book on ink-and-paper era

SAN FRANCISCO: Tablet computers and electronic readers promise to close the book on the ink-and-paper era as they transform the way people browse magazines, check news or lose themselves in novels.

Online retail giant Amazon has made electronic readers mainstream with Kindle devices, and Apple ignited insatiable demand for tablets ideal for devouring online content ranging from films to magazines and books.

In 2011, digital books earned about $3.2 billion in revenue, an amount that the combined momentum of e-readers and tablets is expected to triple to $9.7 billion by the year 2016, according to a Juniper Research report.

Readers are showing increased loyalty to digital books, according to the US Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

Nearly half of print book buyers who also got digital works said they would skip getting an ink-and-paper release by a favorite author if an electronic version could be had within three months, a BISG survey showed.

“The e-book market is developing very fast, with consumer attitudes and behaviors changing over the course of months, rather than years,” said BISG deputy executive director Angela Bole.

Concerns about e-book reading are diminishing, with people mainly wishing for lower device prices, according to the survey.

Owning e-readers tended to ramp up the amount of money people spent on titles in what BISG described as a promising sign for publishers.