NEXT Survives Cold Weather to Push Sales Up

LONDON -- NEXT  (LSE: NXT  ) continued its steam-rolling success as the high-street retailer posted positive quarterly sales in an interim management statement, with the market responding by pushing the shares up 129 pence, or 2.9%, in early trade.

Excluding VAT, brand sales for the first quarter to May 4 saw an increase of 2.2% year on year, while expansion yielded 1.5% of that figure following the opening of profitable new space. 

The hugely successful online and catalog service NEXT Directory contributed an 8.9% uplift, outweighing a decline in retail sales of 1.9% following volatile trading in no small part due to the unseasonable cold weather that the U.K. suffered from in March and most of April.

Overall, then, brand sales came in at just below the midpoint of the guidance range given in March of +1% to +4%, but investors were cheered by this figure nonetheless due to the aforementioned abnormally cold spring that has affected the vast majority of retailers.

After confirming that sales have rocketed from the week beginning April 13, management stated its belief that neither the poor prior four weeks or the booming period since is "indicative of any significant change in the underlying economy," though it did reiterate its caution about the consumer environment. Furthermore, its expectations are that "the continuing decline in real earnings will depress discretionary spending for at least the next eighteen months, if not longer." 

Guidance for the full year continues between +1% to 4%, with a profit range of 615 million pounds to 665 million pounds. NEXT shares now trade at an all-time high of around 4,525 pence and offer a consensus yield of 2.4%, just shy of the FTSE 100's average of about 3.2%. Bearing in mind that as recently as July 2008 the shares traded at 9.54 pence, the company has shown impressive growth under a solid management team -- despite the expensive valuation, there's still a lot to like about NEXT.

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