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By
Reuters
Published
Dec 19, 2008
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Laura Ashley underlying sales fall sharply

By
Reuters
Published
Dec 19, 2008


* 20 weeks to Dec. 13 lfl sales down 9.9 pct

* Total sales up 9.7 pct

* Says outlook "extremely challenging"

* Expects trading in line with board's hopes

* Shares unchanged

(Adds detail)

LONDON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Laura Ashley Holdings Plc , the British fashion and homewares retailer, on Friday reported a sharp fall in underlying sales, blaming the difficult economic climate, and said the outlook was "challenging".

The company, which trades from 231 stores in the UK, said that in the first 20 weeks of its second half, to Dec. 13, sales on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the impact of new space, were down 9.9 percent.

"Tough trading conditions in the current economic climate, combined with the effects of new store openings on existing stores have affected like-for-like UK store sales," it said.

Total sales increased 9.7 percent, reflecting a net six additional UK stores during the period.

The group said its Asian franchise partner has begun a programme to open 80 stores in China over the next five years, while its Middle East partner has also committed to expanding its brand presence.

Laura Ashley said although the outlook remained "extremely challenging" it expected to trade "broadly in line with the board's expectations."

Prior to Friday's update analysts at house broker Numis were forecasting a year to end-Jan. 2009 pretax profit of 16.1 million pounds.

At 0813 GMT shares in Laura Ashley, which have halved over the last year, were unchanged at 12 pence, valuing the business at 87 million pounds. (Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Rhys Jones and Hans Peters)

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