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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK

Business: The Company File

Debenhams sales still slow

Debenhams' sales have been under pressure

UK department store chain Debenhams has highlighted the difficult times retailers face on the High Street by unveiling a fall in sales.

Tough trading conditions saw the group's like-for-like sales fall by almost 2% in the six months to the end of February.

[ image: Shoppers have been scarce on the ground]
Shoppers have been scarce on the ground
However, sales had shown a slight pick up in the last few weeks as a succession of interest rate cuts tempts some shoppers back to the High Street.

Against the tough trading environment Debenhams was also able to increase profits by slashing its costs - which helped its earnings rising 3% to 79.4m.

Debenhams' refusal to chase sales by cutting prices also helped increase its margins.

Chairman Peter Jarvis said: "This sound performance gives us further confidence in our established strategy and demonstrates our ability to drive the business forward in a difficult market while increasing the gross margin and controlling costs."

"We will continue to maximise the number of full price trading weeks in order to protect the gross margin," he added.

The group opened four new stores in the first half of the current financial year, giving it 90 in all. It plans to have more than 100 in the UK Ireland by 2003.

Earnings per share for the half-year increased 2.2% to 14.1p from 13.8p a year earlier and the interim dividend has been raised to 4.1p from 3.9p.

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