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By
Reuters
Published
Apr 1, 2010
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Mothercare cautious on UK, bullish for abroad

By
Reuters
Published
Apr 1, 2010

By Mark Potter

LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) - British retailer Mothercare (MTC.L) is planning for tough trading in its main UK market, but believes growth overseas and new products like a pushchair which can switch the direction a child is facing will help it to cope.

Mothercare
Photo: www.mothercare.com

The mother and baby products chain said on Thursday 1 April sales at British stores open at least a year fell 1.6 percent in the 11 weeks to March 11, the last quarter of its financial year.

Forecasts had ranged from a fall of 1 percent to an increase of 2.8 percent, according to a Reuters poll of four analysts.

Mothercare said the weaker-than-expected performance was due to severe winter weather, which kept shoppers away from some of its out-of-town stores, and was offset by tight cost control and a strong performance overseas.

International sales were up 19.3 percent.

"It is very difficult to know what's going to happen in the UK and we are taking a cautious view," Chief Executive Ben Gordon told reporters.

Britain's retailers are worried that steps to reduce government debt, like higher taxes and public spending cuts, could hit consumers after an election expected on May 6.

For the time being, though, many are benefiting from rises in disposable incomes after cuts in mortgage rates at the start of the recession.

Department store chain John Lewis [JLP.UL] reported a 19 percent jump in sales for the week ended March 27, while fashion and homewares group Laura Ashley (ALY.L) delivered a 5.2 percent rise in annual adjusted profit.

Mothercare's Gordon said he was comfortable with analysts' consensus profit forecast for the year ended March 27, which he said was around 38 million pounds ($58 million).

Shore Capital analyst Kate Calvert lowered her forecast to 39 million from 41.5 million and also planned to cut her estimate for the new financial year to 46 million, from 47.4 million due to the company's cautious view on UK prospects.

At 0915 GMT, Mothercare shares were down 3 percent at 582.5 pence. The stock had outperformed the UK general retail index .FTASX5370 by 16 percent over the previous year, helped by a resilient performance during the recession.

The group has benefited from its focus on selling essential products to parents, as well as strong growth in emerging markets and online, and the integration of the Early learning Centre brand bought in 2007.

Gordon said these benefits would continue in 2010-11.

The group, which has 1,115 stores in 52 countries, plans to open around 100 shops, mostly overseas, each year.

Gordon said this would include 38 in India, taking the total there to 70, and a further 10 in China.

He also had high hopes for a number of new products, such as the Mothercare Spin pushchair, and a new range of toiletries. (Editing by Kate Holton and David Cowell)

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