Further bad news for UK retailers

More British retailers today succumbed to the dire trading conditions being seen on the high street amid gloomy news of company administrations and poor sales figures.

Curtains and furnishings firm Rosebys went into administration today, while Savile Row tailor and former dressmaker to the Queen Hardy Amies announced it was fighting for survival.

Reports suggested that furniture retailer MFI was also battling to secure its future.

Sales declines at retail chains John Lewis and JJB Sports added to the misery.

John Lewis, seen as a bellwether of the industry, gave the sector a particular shock after it confirmed that the financial turmoil had knocked consumer confidence for six.

Sales across its 27 department stores fell by 5.6% in the week to September 20, while its grocery chain Waitrose saw sales growth grind to a halt.

Its home division suffered the most, with sales off 14% as the housing market slowdown continues.

The woes at Roseby's and MFI underlined the difficulties being faced by property-related retailers.

But fashion firms are also being challenged, with hard-pressed shoppers choosing not to splash their cash.

JJB reported a loss of £9.7m (€12.2m) in the six months to July 27, against a profit of £8.3m (€10.5m) a year earlier, with sales down in the period and falling further since.

Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital Stockbrokers, said: "The news of what's been happening in the financial markets over the past two weeks has been very worrying for consumers and has impacted their confidence.

"The fact that the sunshine has also come out for the first time in a while also means that people are choosing instead to spend time in their gardens or the park."

He added that there were set to be further "casualties" in the sector. "There will be more companies finding it difficult and the banks aren't in a position to help them as much after the credit crunch, so there will undoubtedly be more casualties down the line."

There are fears that the imminent deadline for third quarter rental bills - due before the end of the month - will put many retailers under pressure and could lead to a further flurry of administrations.

MFI has reportedly asked its landlords for a rent-free period as it struggles against a marked decline in demand for "big ticket" items.

Gavin George, head of retail at Ernst & Young, said: "The September deadline is encouraging many to go into administration before the rent is due.

"There's a lot of pressure from banks to act before making a large payment to the landlords," he added.

The sector will come under further scrutiny next week when retailing giants Tesco and Marks & Spencer reveal their latest sales figures.

Tesco may provide a rare ray of sunshine, with market experts forecasting a double digit rise in half-year trading profit and possible solid sales.

However, M&S is not thought to have fared well in recent months and some are predicting that its first quarter sales slide may have widened further as shoppers seek cheaper alternatives.

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