Sep 3, 2010
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John Lewis shoppers shrug off austerity fears

Sep 3, 2010

LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Customers of British retailer John Lewis [JLP.UL] are showing few signs of reining in spending in the face of prospective tax rises and employment uncertainty with the firm posting another week of double digit sales growth.

John Lewis, Liverpool. Photo : Corbis

The employee-owned company, traditionally seen as a bellwether of the UK retail sector but which has outperformed competitors for over a year, said sales at its 28 department stores and two "at home" stores increased 12.2 percent to 57.8 million pounds ($89.4 million) in the week to Aug. 28.

The outcome was driven by a 17.0 percent rise in fashion sales and a 16.4 percent increase in the home category but was flattered by the opening of the retailer's second "at home" store in Croydon, south London.

As with previous weeks the data showed southern based stores outperforming outlets in the north, with, for example, Oxford Street, London up 14.3 percent but Newcastle down 9.0 pct.

John Lewis also said it had made "a flying start" to the week beginning Aug. 29.

A survey on Tuesday said British consumer confidence unexpectedly improved in August for the first time since February and on Thursday John Browett, chief executive of DSG International (DSGI.L), Europe's No. 2 electricals retailer, said he did not expect a double-dip recession.

However, many experts think UK retailers face a particularly tough winter as the government takes steps to reduce a record public deficit.

"The general retail sector has recovered over the last fortnight but has still underperformed the market over the last quarter by almost 10 percent," said Seymour Pierce analyst Freddie George.

"We think the short-term outperformance will continue before the reality of the public spending cuts start to sink in -- the Spending Review is due Oct. 20."

John Lewis also owns the 231-store Waitrose supermarket chain, where week to Aug. 28 sales rose 6.8 percent to 90.2 million pounds, boosted by strong sales of the newly launched Duchy Originals from Waitrose organic range.

(Reporting by James Davey, editing by Mark Potter)

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