Mar 4, 2011
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John Lewis sales rise as school's out

Mar 4, 2011

March 4 - Sales at British retailer John Lewis were sharply higher last week following five consecutive weeks of subdued sales, boosted by the later falling of half term school holidays in England this year.

John Lewis
John Lewis in Cardiff

The employee-owned group, which has long outperformed the broader retail sector, said on Friday sales at its department stores rose 7.2 percent to 54.0 million pounds ($87.93 million) in the week to Feb. 26.

"While week 3 (week to Feb. 19) was half term north of the border, it happened in the South last week and we finished the week 7.2 percent up on last year. Looking at the two-week period, taking into consideration the change of the half-term dates, we achieved a 3.4 percent increase," said selling director David Barford.

Fashion sales increased 10 percent, while sales in the electricals and home technology and home categories were up 6 percent and 5 percent respectively.

John Lewis, Britain's biggest department store group, said weekly sales were up 5.0 percent excluding the recent rise in VAT sales tax.

Recent company updates and industry surveys indicate that British consumers are increasingly less prepared to spend as muted earnings growth and higher inflation, fueled by January's hike in VAT sales tax to 20 percent and the sharp rise in oil prices, bites into real incomes.

"Looking through the distortions caused by the half-term effect, it does appear that John Lewis sales have lost significant overall momentum in recent weeks, which is a worrying sign for consumer spending given that John Lewis has very much been an outperformer in the retail sector," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.

John Lewis also runs upmarket grocery chain Waitrose. Sales here rose 6.2 percent to 94.9 million pounds, also boosted by half term.

Waitrose stores in London enjoyed better-than-expected sales due to the popularity of 'staycations' in the capital, the firm noted.

(Reporting by James Davey, editing by Rhys Jones)

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