284-Bagger Next Improves Profit Forecast

LONDON -- Next  (LSE: NXT.L  ) shares slipped a little in early trading this morning, falling 1.4% (50.72 pence) to 3,554.28 pence at the time of writing. This follows a third-quarter trading statement that proclaimed a "volatile" overall sales performance, leading to the full-year sales guidance being reduced to a range of 3% to 4.5%.

However, Next released more precise full-year estimates with its statement this morning, with group profit (pre-tax) improving at the lower end to an expected 590 million pounds to 620 million pounds (previously 575 million pounds to 620 million pounds). Growth in basic earnings per share is estimated to improve between 10% and 15% from last year's 255.4 pence, while the shares are on a prospective yield of 3.1%.

Excluding VAT, retail sales lifted 1.1% while the NEXT Directory sales rose 5.6%. Compared to the year-to-date figures of 0.5% and 10.4%, respectively, the difference in performances has shrunk, with management believing it is because "Directory has now annualized the significant benefits of the delivery improvements we made at the start of last year."

Investors following the company carefully are unlikely to be surprised by the news, however. The shares rocketed at the beginning of 2012, after making a better-than-expected start to the year, and, although posting double-digit increases for both profits and dividends in its interim results statement, management at Next were cautious about future sales due to the economic outlook and the impact of Sunday trading laws alike.

Next remains one of the better performers on the high street, largely due to its online Directory service. In fact, the shares have been among the most impressive in the London market since the price touched just 12.75 pence during 1991 as the group were threatened with bankruptcy.

Today, however, anyone smart enough to buy then and hold on would now be sitting on a massive 284-fold capital gain.

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Sam Robson does not own any share mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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