Retailers Set to Show Extent Of Recovery

Trading updates from four of the country's biggest retailers next week will shed more light on the strength of the nascent consumer recovery.
Trading statements over the past fortnight have supported hopes of a quick recovery from recession, and have been backed up by official data, and surveys on consumer morale and house prices.

However, the picture was clouded by the British Retail Consortium which said Tuesday retail sales fell in August for the first time since May, and some analysts remain cautious given rising unemployment, low earnings growth and heightened debt levels.

Wednesday, Next, the country's second-largest clothing retailer, is expected to report pretax profit of 177-185 million pounds for the six months to end-July, up from 173.5 million pounds in the 2008 period, according to a poll of analysts provided by the company.

The group updated on its first-half sales performance in July so the focus will be on its outlook.

"Management has called the current economic cycle well, so investors will be looking for any indications that it is becoming more optimistic about the consumer outlook," said Sam Hart, analyst at Charles Stanley.

He said the retailer's current guidance for Next Retail like-for-like sales to be down by 3.5-6.5 percent in the second-half was too pessimistic and could be raised.

Kingfisher, Europe's largest home improvements group, was due to post first-half results Thursday. It has forecast underlying pretax profit of 285-290 million pounds for the six months to August 1, up from 214 million in 2008.

With the key figures already known investors will look for hints on second-half trading at B&Q in Britain and Castorama in France, progress in China, and its self-help initiatives.

Employee-owned John Lewis, Britain's largest department store group and home to Waitrose supermarkets, will report first-half results Thursday. The group publishes weekly sales figures.

Its nearest department store rival, Debenhams, is expected to report improved sales and margins when it updates on trading Tuesday.

Analysts at UBS forecast fiscal second-half like-for-like sales down 2.5 percent, compared to a first-half fall of 3.6 percent, and expected the retailer to announce a small debt reduction as it buys back debt with cash raised from a 323 million pounds share sale in June.

A busy week also sees results from fashion brand French Connection Thursday, home furnishings group Dunelm on Tuesday, along with official retail sales data for August on Thursday.

Companies who have updated the market recently included household goods group Home Retail, electricals retailers DSG International and Kesa Electricals, and sporting goods retailer Sports Direct.

(Editing by Dan Lalor)