Opening Quote: Ted Baker is Next big thing on the high street

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Next chief executive Lord Wolfson may not have had the ideal Christmas. But that was nothing compared with his shareholders’ New Year. Full-price sales at the high street retailer between November and Christmas Eve fell 0.4 per cent – causing the company to revise its full-year profit guidance to the lower end of expectations and warn on the outlook for 2017. But its share price reaction was far worse: falling 20 per cent in the first two months of this year, to half its peak level of late 2015. Some analysts thought it overdone – saying the shares have priced in a “collapse in returns and cash flow” even though the business remains “fundamentally healthy”.

This morning, the high street side looked anything but healthy.

Total sales for Next Retail in the year to end January fell 2.9 per cent. It was only thanks to a 4.2 per cent improvement in Next Directory online and catalogue sales that total revenues remained broadly flat, year-on-year, at £4.1bn. As a result, pre-tax profit fell 3.8 per cent to £790m.

Over the period Next had to spend another £161m on new stores, warehousing and systems, and increased its net debt to £861m. Its priorities for 2017 are to improve buying processes, cut costs and modernise the UK Directory business with better customer management.

However, earnings per share fell only 0.3 per cent, to 441.3p, after share buybacks of £188m. Lord Wolfson will be hoping these – plus £226m of ordinary dividends and £88m of special dividends – will prevent shareholders fleeing the high street

Rival clothes retailer Ted Baker, by contrast, had a great winter – not that you would know it from its chief executive’s gloomy remarks in January. Ray Kelvin predicted high streets would become “desolate” as customers abandoned bricks-and-mortar stores for online shopping. “It’s the end of retail as we remember it,” he said.

It might be for Next but, on Ted’s side of the street, the end looks some way off.

This morning, Mr Kelvin reported a 16.4 per cent rise in group revenue – or 10.8 per cent in constant currency – to £531.0m. This was driven by a 15 per cent rise in retail sales, to £400m, led by strong growth of more than a quarter in the US and Canada. E-commerce sales were up 35 per cent to £72.3m

With the inventory now passing through the group’s new European distribution centre in the UK, capital expenditure is now set to come down from £43.8m to £35m, to cover further store openings and refurbishments, and investment in new IT systems.

Mr Austin said:

“We have continued to trade well and develop despite a backdrop of ongoing external challenges across our global markets… we have a clear strategy for continued growth across both established and newer markets. This is underpinned by controlled distribution across channels as well as the design, quality and attention to detail that are at the core of everything we do.”

But it might be time to buy some dark glasses for former Barclays bankers. As the FT revealed earlier this morning, the Financial Conduct Authority has reignited its investigation into the bank’s emergency cash call at the height of the financial crisis. At that time, the bank turned to Qatari and Abu Dhabi senior royals and sovereign wealth funds for a £7.3bn boost as way of avoiding UK government intervention. According to people familiar with the situation, the watchdog has begun a series of interviews in recent weeks. In 2013, it ruled that the bank had failed to disclose arrangements and fees it paid to Qatari investors and said it would fine Barclays £50m.

And it is time for some new suits – if not from Ted Baker or Next – for Philip Cox: the chairman of power station Drax has been named the next chairman of construction group Kier. This morning, the FTSE 250 company also announced that underlying pre-tax profit in the half year to December rose 12 per cent to £46.3m, despite a 1 per cent dip in revenues. On a statutory basis profits jumped more than 700 per cent, though the previous year’s figures were skewed by much higher one-off costs.

FT Opening Quote, with commentary by Matthew Vincent, is your early Square Mile briefing. You can sign up for the full newsletter here.

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