Next warns sales will fall ‘faster and steeper’ than expected in pandemic

Next is cancelling its dividend and share buyback programme to save £480m as it warned sales would fall “faster and steeper” than previously feared during the coronavirus crisis.

The fashion and homewares retailer warned it could suffer losses of £150m – from a profit of almost £600m last year – as full price sales collapse by up to 40%. The prediction is a significant worsening from the 25% drop predicted by the group just last month.

It said expectations had changed because of a bigger-than-expected slump in sales and that it was likely trading would continue to decline into the second half of its financial year, which ends in January.

Next said much had changed since it last updated investors just over a month ago amid “unprecedented uncertainty” caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We anticipate that it will take some time for customers to return to their normal shopping habits and that sales will be very subdued when trade commences,” the group said.

“We believe that the effects of the coronavirus will be felt for longer than we first anticipated. The economic consequences and continued social distancing will mean that both retail sales and online sales will be disrupted even after full lockdown measures have been lifted.”

The retailer stressed its finances were secure as “historic maintenance of healthy margins and high returns on capital have built a strong base from which to weather the storm”.

To help it cope with the crisis, Next is raising £155m in cash with the sale and leaseback of three warehouses and its headquarters in Leicester. It has saved £290m by cancelling stock orders from suppliers and made £120m in other cost savings, including marketing and distribution.

The company has also won approval for a government-backed emergency loan and furloughed more than 80% of staff under the government’s job retention scheme.

Next said it was working on getting back to business, and now has 70% of its ranges available online, after putting in place physical distancing measures at its warehouse. The group is also working on plans to reopen stores with physical distancing measures, once it is allowed to do so. It said large, out-of-town stores would be the first to open as they had the space to organise queuing systems.

The update from Next came as Dixons Carphone said it was also cancelling its dividend, although the electrical products retailer said its sales had fallen by just 3% in the five weeks to 25 April.

A surge in online demand allowed the retailer to recover about two-thirds of sales lost in its closed UK stores. Online sales jumped by 166% in the UK and Ireland and by 16% overseas, as shoppers sought out computers to cope with working from home as well as breadmakers, gaming equipment and TVs for entertainment during the lockdown.

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