Primark sets trend for Christmas

PrimarkFashion chain Primark showed rivals a clean pair of heels this Christmas as cash-strapped shoppers stocked up on budget trends.

Demand for Christmas jumpers and the popularity of all-in-one pyjamas, known as "onesies", helped drive a 25% increase in sales at the chain over the 16 weeks to January 5, parent company Associated British Foods said.

The group's 14 store openings in Europe, including its second shop on London's Oxford Street, helped boost the figures but City experts suggest the like-for-like result excluding expansion still rose by 9% in the period.

The better-than-expected performance for Primark is in contrast to rival Marks & Spencer, which saw like-for-like sales of general merchandise - which includes clothes - dip by almost 4% in its Christmas figures.

Neil Shah, analyst at Edison Investment Research, said: "Primark has delivered a lesson in clothing retailing to the UK high street with the best of any sales figures over the final quarter."

Primark's strong Christmas comes on the back of a 15% jump in operating profits and a 3% hike in like-for-like sales at its year end in September.

The group, which has 256 Primark stores in Europe, also said lower cotton prices had pushed profit margins ahead of the same period last year.

AB Foods - the owner of British Sugar as well as household brands Kingsmill, Ryvita and Twinings - said the strong performance from Primark had helped boost group revenues, which were up 10%.

Sales in its grocery arm were flat, but it said it had seen strong growth in its tea business in the UK and US, and for Ovaltine in developing markets.

Sugar revenues were 12% ahead of last year, but the group warned profits would be lower because of smaller production levels and higher sugar beet cost.

High Street casualties

High Street casualties