* Q1 full price sales down 1.5% on two years ago
* Next had expected 10% decline
* Raises profit forecast for 2021-22 to 720 mln stg
* Maintains sales guidance for rest of the year
By James Davey
LONDON, May 6 (Reuters) - British fashion retailer Next
raised its full-year profit guidance for the second time
in two months as it reported better than expected first quarter
The group, which trades from about 500 stores as well as
online, said on Thursday its central guidance for pretax profit
in the 2021-2022 fiscal year was now 720 million pounds ($1
billion), up from the 700 million pounds forecast in April.
That was after full price sales in the 13 weeks to May 1
fell 1.5% compared with the same period two years ago - before
the COVID-19 pandemic started to disrupt trading last year.
Next's previous guidance assumed first quarter sales would
tumble 10% from the same period in fiscal 2019-20. It said it
had beaten this forecast by 75 million pounds.
However, the group did not raise its sales guidance for the
rest of the year, which it kept at up 3% versus two years ago.
Next has shown resilience during the pandemic, benefiting
from its long-established online operations.
Rivals with weaker or no online business, notably Primark
, have seen far larger falls in sales. Others, such as
Topshop-owner Arcadia, and Debenhams have gone out of business.
Next said first quarter retail sales from its stores were
down 76% on two years ago, reflecting COVID-19 lockdowns, while
online sales increased 65%.
Total full price sales in the last three weeks were up 19%,
reflecting the recent easing of pandemic restrictions.
"Evidence from last year suggests that this post lockdown
surge will be short lived, and we expect sales to settle back
down to our guidance levels within the next few weeks," it said.
Shares in Next, up 77% over the last year, closed on
Wednesday at 8,126 pence, valuing the business at 10.8 billion
($1 = 0.7191 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey. Editing by Sarah Young and Mark