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Dec 15, 2008
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Arcandor reassures on outlook, H&M disappoints

By
Reuters
Published
Dec 15, 2008

* Arcandor meets 2007-8 earnings target, keeps 2008-9 goal

* Arcandor shares surge 8.2 percent

* H&M Nov sales miss forecast, shares fall

* Inchcape warns on 2009 profit, shares plunge a third

By Eva Kuehnen and Anna Ringstrom

FRANKFURT/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Consumer spending is fragile across Europe, trading updates from three major retailers showed on Monday, though Germany's Arcandor lifted the gloom by keeping its growth forecast for next year.


Arcandor headquarter

Arcandor, which makes most of its profits from a 52 percent stake in tourism group Thomas Cook , said conditions for its retail businesses -- department stores chain Karstadt and home shopping unit Primondo -- were challenging. [nLF596979]

This chimed with monthly sales data from Hennes & Mauritz , Europe's second-biggest clothing retailer, which posted a 4 percent year-on-year drop in underlying sales for November, near the bottom of analysts' forecasts. [nLF621302]

British-based car retailer Inchcape also warned its 2009 profits would be weaker than expected. [nLF613643]

"It's really tough out there, and Germany isn't immune," said Daniel Lucht, analyst at retail researchers Verdict.

Europe's retailers are struggling as consumers rein in spending amid fears of recession and rising unemployment.

Some commentators have suggested that Germany, Europe's biggest economy, might be more resilient to the downturn than neighbours such as Britain, which has higher levels of personal debt and an economy more exposed to financial services.

German retail industry body HDE said on Sunday a poll showed shoppers little affected by the downturn so far. [nLE437047]

However, the Bundesbank said on Monday that German consumer sentiment was set to suffer in the coming months. [nLF704630]

Arcandor said adjusted, operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 19 percent to 820.2 million euros ($1.1 billion) in the year ended September, topping its target of 800 million euros.

Arcandor shares, which have plunged over 80 percent this year on concerns over weak trading at Karstadt and its debt pile, jumped as much as 8.2 percent to 2.76 euros.

Thomas Cook accounted for about 60 percent of sales and 90 percent of operating profit. Primondo also improved earnings, but Karstadt plunged to a loss before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 4 million euros, hit by a weak Christmas last year and a discounting policy since scrapped.

The firm posted a full-year net loss of 745.7 million euros, hit by big restructuring charges, mainly at Thomas Cook.

KARSTADT QUESTIONS

Arcandor said it was still aiming for adjusted earnings of 1.1 billion euros in its new financial year.

"However, a prerequisite for achieving our forecast is that the extent of the financial crisis does not increase significantly and the recession does not exceed the forecast degree," Chief Executive Thomas Middelhoff said in a statement.

Arcandor said it had taken steps to improve Karstadt by, for example, announcing cost-cutting measures aimed at boosting EBITDA by 150 million euros this financial year.

The group calmed some nerves over its debts in September by saying it had secured financing with its main banks and agreed to sell new shares equivalent to a 10 percent stake to German private bank Sal. Oppenheim.

It also said earlier this month that Deutsche Telekom Chief Financial Officer Karl-Gerhard Eick would take over from Middelhoff from March.

Arcandor said it would continue to focus on cutting net debt which, excluding finance leases stood at 802 million euros.

"NO ONE IS IMMUNE"

The 4 percent drop in like-for-like sales at Sweden's Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) in November compared with analysts' forecasts of flat to a 5 percent fall, according to a Reuters poll.

"It is increasingly clear that no-one is immune from the pressure on consumers globally, but we still believe that H&M is relatively resilient," said Credit Suisse analyst Tony Shiret.

At 1050 GMT, H&M shares were down 1.8 percent at 301.5 Swedish crowns.

Analysts think H&M and Spain's Inditex , Europe's biggest clothing retailer, will cope with the downturn better than smaller rivals due to their scale and geographic diversity.

Inditex said last week that sales in the first six weeks of its fourth quarter had shown the same pattern as in the third, easing fears of a steep downturn in trading. [nLA492460]

Shares in Inchcape dropped as much as a third to 47 pence after the car dealer warned on 2009 profits and said it would not pay a dividend for the year ending December 2008.

(Additional reporting by Mark Potter, Rhys Jones in London and Veronica Ek in Stockholm; Writing by Mark Potter; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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