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John Lewis confident over Xmas sales

Source: Reuters - Fri 13th Nov 2009

John Lewis JLP.UL, the employee-owned group seen as a barometer of UK retailing, posted a 13.2 percent rise in weekly department store sales, boosting confidence as the key Christmas shopping period gets underway.

The firm said sales at its 28 department stores and one John Lewis at home store, were 65.4 million pounds in the week to November 7, up from 57.8 million pounds in the same period last year, when trading conditions were depressed by the financial crisis and the group had two less stores.

The outcome represented an eighth consecutive week of increased department store sales.

"It was an excellent week last week... our second best movement of the half year to date. We saw double-digit advances from six out of seven days, and also across all three buying directorates" John Lewis said.

The result "should give us great confidence as we enter the last seven weeks to Christmas."

The sales increase was driven by a 20.4 percent rise in the electricals and home technology category. Homewares sales were up 14.6 percent and fashion sales increased 12.4 percent. Many British retailers have been battered by recession but a survey on Tuesday showed sales grew in October at their fastest annual pace since April.

"This boosts hopes that consumer spending will increase in the fourth quarter (after falling since the second quarter of 2008) and help the economy to finally return to growth after six quarters of overall sharp contraction" said Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

But he cautioned that the upside for consumer spending may be limited for some time to come as consumers continue to face serious headwinds, pointing to rising unemployment, low and slowing earnings growth and heightened debt levels.

John Lewis also owns the 218-store Waitrose supermarket chain.

Sales here increased 17.1 percent to 90.5 million pounds, the grocer's highest sales growth for a standard trading week since 2006, underscoring its current position as the UK's fastest growing grocer.

The firm said sales of its "essential" value range were boosted by rival Marks & Spencer's advertising campaign which compared its prices with those of Waitrose.

"Maybe we should be thanking the M&S marketing department for highlighting both the quality and value of our essential Waitrose range in its high-profile advertising campaign" it said.

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