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Laura Ashley like-for-likes slump but profits soar

Fashion to furnishings retailer Laura Ashley saw like-for-like fashion sales collapse 4.4% for the year to January 26 but group profit before tax soared 62.3% to £19.8 million.

Total group sales rose 5.6% to £237.6m with retail sales up 7.2% to £187.2m. Group like-for-likes fell 8.7% because of tough trading conditions and some cannabilisation from new store openings, but margin improved 2 percentage points.

Fashion sales, which make up 19% of the business, were up 7.7% over the year. The company said that fashion had seen the largest improvement in margin, driven by its policy to restrict markdowns and the increased the use of point of sale promotions.

Current trading has remained difficult with like-for-likes down 8.8% for the seven weeks to March 15. However total retail sales were up 5.2%.

Laura Ashley chairman Tan Sri Dr K P Khoo said: "Although our like-for-like sales have declined, we do not view this as a cause for concern. Our total sales and margin rate have both seen continued improvement."

He added: "Whilst we are confident that our strong brand and product offering are compelling, we remain cautious about the general trading conditions in the retail market for the year ahead."

Laura Ashley made no statement as to its stake building in Moss Bros this morning.

Separately, Laura Ashley has appointed its former chief executive Ng Kwan Cheong as a non-executive director. Ng was chief executive of Laura Ashley between 1999 and 2003.

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