Page last updated at 08:48 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 09:48 UK

Debenhams sees profits rise 10.7%

Man walking past Debenhams store

Debenhams has seen a rise in half-yearly profits, helped by a good performance in its own ranges, including Designers at Debenhams.

The department store group reported pre-tax profits of £104.2m for the 26 weeks to the end of February, up 10.7% on the same period a year ago.

Net debt at the end of February had improved by £66.8m since the year end to £927.2m, the company said.

Shares in Debenhams surged 16% in early trading, boosting the retail sector.

Shares in both Next and Marks & Spencer were also up about 5%.

'Considerable achievement'

Like-for-like sales at Debenhams were up 1.9% for the 7 weeks to 18 April.

Last month, the firm had reportedly been considering a share issue to help trim debts.

Chief executive Rob Templeman said the increase in profitability was a "considerable achievement" given the "difficult trading conditions across the retail sector".

But he was more guarded when looking ahead to the rest of the year.

"We remain cautious about the outlook for consumer confidence for the remainder of the year and we will continue to run the business accordingly, with an ongoing focus on cash profit," he said.

'Steep road ahead'

Analysts said Debenhams was producing results thought unlikely just months ago.

"Despite the toughest backdrop in years for the consumer, Debenhams is confirming that there is still demand for designer products sold on a value basis," said Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers.

However, he warned the road ahead remains "long and steep".

"Early cost savings have been won, whilst group debt levels remain a considerable millstone and the decline in sterling provides a further hurdle."

Meanwhile, WH Smith announced a 5% fall in half-year profits to £61m, but was optimistic about the rest of the year.

"Our markets remain challenging, however we have planned accordingly and are confident in the outcome for the full year," said chief executive Kate Swann.

The company also increased its half-year dividend to shareholders by 17% to 5.4 pence a share.

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