Next's profit halves after pandemic shutters stores

LONDON (Reuters) – British fashion retailer Next on Thursday reported a halving in annual pretax profit after COVID-19 lockdowns closed its stores but raised its forecast for a big rebound this year.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past a Next store on Oxford Street in London, Britain December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Profit before tax of 342 million pounds ($471 million) for the year to end January was in line with company guidance but down from 729 million.

With most of Next’s stores closed for a significant portion of the year, group sales fell by 17% to 3.6 billion pounds.

Yet Next has shown resilience during the crisis, benefiting from its long-established online operation.

Rivals with weaker or no online business, notably Primark, have seen far larger falls in sales. Others, such as Topshop-owner Arcadia, and Debenhams have collapsed.

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In the first eight weeks of the current financial year, Next said online sales had been stronger than expected and up more than 60% on two years ago.

The group raised its central guidance for profit before tax for 2021-22 to 700 million pounds from 670 million.

It maintained its forecast for flat full price sales versus 2019-20 – a two-year comparison.

Shares in Next, up 11% in 2021, closed Wednesday at 7,866 pence, valuing the business at 10.4 billion pounds.

($1 = 0.7268 pounds)

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