Next enjoys belated Christmas present as sales surge

Next results signal a good Christmas for UK retailers

"Expect some share price relief that Christmas wasn't as bad as expected and no further downgrades".

The retailer expects total full-price sales this year to nudge up 0.3 per cent, rising to 1 per cent next year.

The clothing and home chain said overall sales rose 1.5% in the 54 days to 24 December in a trading statement that kicked off the festive reporting season. The company said part of this improvement has been down to much colder weather leading up to Christmas. Online sales were likely to have benefited from the company running a Black Friday promotion for the first time previous year.

"As much as today's update is good news in itself (positive full price sales, outlook positive), and adds to share buyback and special dividend goodies, management's update-by-update tinkering of guidance (that's four in a row now), and sharp share price reactions only goes to reinforce how shareholders remain at the mercy of the United Kingdom consumer from one season to the next and exposed to short-termism".

Next had flagged that comparative sales numbers with a year ago were much more demanding in the fourth quarter than they were in the third. It now expects group profit to be somewhere in the range of £718m to £732m.

It said subdued United Kingdom consumer demand driven by a decline in real income, the increase in spending on leisure at the expense of clothing, and inflation in cost prices all remain hard.

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"Furthermore, we are only back to the levels from which we fell before last year's disappointing January update, one which triggered a 14% fall, adding to shareholder woes and starting 2017 on the wrong foot", said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets.

"However, we believe that some of these headwinds will ease as we move through the year; we already know that lost price inflation will reduce to 2% in the first half and believe it will disappear in the second half".

Next warned: "Many of the challenges we faced last year look set to continue into the year ahead".

Next shares climbed 9% on Wednesday morning above 4,900p but by early afternoon had settled to 4,814p, a rise of nearly 7% on the day.

That is good news for everyone - whether or not you shop at Next.

George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, explained that while colder weather may have boosted sales in the run-up to Christmas, the real positive was the more optimistic outlook from Next's chief executive Simon Wolfson.

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