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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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Fear of low China target casts cloud over climate talks

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A man walks past the cooling towers of a power plant in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, November 25, 2009.

Fear of low China target casts cloud over climate talks

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is preparing to unveil a target to curb carbon emissions ahead of a major climate summit in Copenhagen next month, but experts and negotiators worry Beijing’s much-anticipated figure may disappoint.

Offers to tackle carbon pollution from China and the United States, the world’s two top emitters, are key to the success of the U.N.-led talks, which originally aimed to seal a new framework to fight climate change.

The negotiations have run out of time and instead a political pact is expected to be agreed at the Dec 7-18 Denmark meeting with a legally binding agreement in 2010.

Beijing is considering a reduction of around 40 to 45 percent in “carbon intensity” — the amount of greenhouse gases emitted for each yuan of national income — from 2005 levels, sources with knowledge of the negotiations say.

It is expected to announce the number before the Copenhagen talks start, perhaps as early as this week.

But critics say Beijing is almost half-way to that goal after just four years of an energy efficiency drive, and warn that an unambitious target could slow a push for cleaner growth.

“Maybe the Chinese government likes to claim by 2020 there will be 40 percent reduction … but it is not aggressive enough, we have to argue for at least 45 percent,” said Yang Fuqiang, director of Global Climate solutions at WWF.

China pledged in 2006 to cut its energy intensity 20 percent by 2010 and is more or less on track to meet that goal. This brings a matching improvement in emissions because every tonne of coal that is not burned keeps carbon dioxide out of the air.

The rapid roll-out of renewables and nuclear has also avoided extra greenhouse gas emissions that would have been created if that energy came from fossil fuels. So a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency brings a greater carbon intensity cut.

“If you convert that into carbon numbers, it’s a little less than a 25 percent decrease,” Jonathan Pershing, U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, said of China’s expected energy savings through 2010, in an interview earlier this month.

Even with a higher-end target of 45 percent, this leaves just over 20 percent to be achieved in the coming decade.

WHAT IS NOTABLE?

President Hu Jintao promised in September that China would unveil a goal for a “notable” cut in carbon intensity by 2020, compared with 2005, a landmark because it was the first time China had accepted it must put measurable controls on emissions.

Beijing’s move was seen as a key step toward unblocking U.N. negotiations that had stalled as rich and poor nations argued over who should cut emissions, by how much and who should pay.

But support for China might wane if rich nations feel Beijing is dressing up its normal economic trajectory as an emissions goal — and experts say that China does already seem on track to make significant cuts in the next decade, in part as it reaps the reward of its energy efficiency and renewables programs.

“My view is that a Chinese target of a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions intensity between 2005 and 2020 would be a continuation of historical trends,” said Jim Watson, from the Tyndall Center for climate change research in Britain.

“If ‘business as usual’ is no progress in carbon intensity reduction, which is very unlikely, then 40 percent is quite big. But compared to historic trends, it is not nearly as big as it sounds,” he added in an email to Reuters.

With the U.S. commitment considered modest by many — President Barack Obama has proposed a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020 from 2005 levels — the two may be aiming for politically acceptable compromises that could potentially be ramped up later.

China’s target has an advantage over any proffered by the United States, however, as its negotiating team do not have to take their deal back for government approval — it will be already endorsed by the ruling Communist Party.

“Whatever the government puts on the table will be a domestic commitment,” said Wu Changhua, China head of The Climate Group.

PEAK YEAR

China might also be considering unveiling a target for the year it wants to see emissions peak, something it has so far resisted as it could imply an implicit cap on greenhouse gases.

“The Chinese government’s latest discussions internally have been very encouraging,” said Wu, from the climate think-tank.

“The second possibility (after a 2020 emissions intensity target) is setting out when China is going to peak in terms of emissions,” she told Reuters.

The most optimistic analysts say an economic shift to greener growth that has already started could be sped up so that emissions peak in barely 10 years.

They point to China’s dramatic transformation from poverty-stricken recluse to leading world power in just three decades as a sign of what the government can do.

“In my road map for CO2 emissions, we reach the peak by 2020 and after that decline,” said prominent economist Hu Angang.

Most estimates, however, are more conservative, suggesting a peak around 2030, the date laid out in a major government study on climate change policy options published earlier this year.

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Barack Obama says world can close the carbon emissions gap

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Barack Obama says world can close the carbon emissions gap

Barack Obama said today there was still time to overcome cynicism and close the gap with developing powers on climate change, after slow progress towards an agreement on how to cut carbon emissions across the planet.

World leaders are racing to meet a deadline of December when the UN climate talks in Copenhagen are due to conclude a crucial deal designed to set a carbon cutting framework to cover 2012-2050. At a meeting in L’Aquila, the G5 group of emerging economies – Brazil, India, China, Mexico and South Africa – refused to back a specific target for developing countries to cut emissions.

In a small step forward yesterday 17 industrialised and developing countries, which account for about 80% of global emissions, agreed to set an aspiration that world temperatures should not rise by more than 2C on pre-industrial levels. It is the first time India, China and the US have agreed to such a goal.

Obama said: “We have made a good start, but I am the first to admit that progress is not going to be easy … every nation in this planet is at risk, but just as more than one nation is responsible for climate change no one nation can solve it alone.

“Developing nations want to make sure they do not have to sacrifice their aspirations for development and higher living standards, yet with most of the projected growth in emissions coming from these countries their active participation is a prerequisite to a solution.

“Developed countries like mine have a historic responsibility to take the lead with our much larger carbon footprint per capita. I know that in the past the US has sometimes failed to meet its responsibilities so let me make it clear those days are over.”

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Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said: “Now we have the 2C goal, that can act as a yardstick to drive up ambition, which is what we need to do over the next six months.”

But Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, criticised all sides for not being more ambitious. The world had to agree a long-term target, a cut of at least 50% by 2050, he said. “But more importantly, the leaders of industrialised countries should agree on a mid-term target.”

On Wednesday the G8 industrialised nations committed to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050, the first time the US, Canada and Russia had agreed to such an ambitious target. But the G8 balked at setting interim targets for 2020, partly because of Obama’s belief that he would undermine support in the US Congress for his climate change bill if he went for tough short term targets.

Obama hit another obstacle yesterday when Democratic leaders in the Senate, under criticism from Republicans for trying to rush through sweeping reforms, abandoned plans to produce a first draft of the bill before the summer recess in August.

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