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High street shrugs off gloom to cash in on Christmas rush

Christmas came late but did arrive eventually for high street multiples, with department stores and young fashion retailers faring best.

With Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, the last week before Christmas proved to be strong, while post-Christmas Sales gained momentum from the unusually long holiday period.

House of Fraser chief financial officer Stefan Cassar said like-for-like sales were up 7.5% for the four weeks to December 30. "The performance during Christmas week was the best in House of Fraser's history," he said. "We set a host of records across the group. That's on top of a strong operating performance, with margins in line with expectations and broadly the same promotional activity as last year."

The late boost in shopping appears to have staved off what Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner had predicted would be the worst Christmas in 25 years. Selfridges reported a double-digit percentage increase in sales in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, while Liberty recorded a sales rise of nearly 6% compared with last year.

At John Lewis, sales between December 27 and January 2 rose 8.2% to £77 million, with the first day of the Sale taking £18.3m - a record for the department store group.

Sales were buoyed by two full weeks of trading prior to Christmas, repeating a pattern last seen in 2000, pointed out one young fashion director. "Those two weeks were fantastic for the industry. Anyone who remembered 2000 knew what to expect. We had two full weeks of consistent shopping, so there was a high volume of trade rather than huge spikes."

Several retailers polled by Drapers said they were able to delay the start of fully-fledged Sales because of tight stock control.

Mosaic Fashions chief executive Derek Lovelock said: "Most of our brands went on Sale later than last year." However, he pointed out that good Christmas trading would not make up for the weakness in November. "For the four weeks to Christmas we were slightly positive on a like-for-like basis and margins were a bit ahead of last year."

However, value retailers sounded less positive. QS chief executive Findlay Caldwell said: "Christmas Eve was a bit flat, but the rest of the week was fantastic. Knitwear has been particularly strong across menswear and womenswear."

Peacocks chief executive Richard Kirk added: "Boxing Day was very good, as were the last two weeks leading up to Christmas and the first week of the Sales."

As Drapers went to press Next was due to report on how it fared over Christmas, with analysts expecting it and Debenhams to be hit hardest by the strong trading at Marks & Spencer.

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