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Retailers take centre stage with results

Retailers continue to take the limelight this week, with supermarket Sainsbury's, fashion chain Next and online player ASOS lining up to report figures.

Fashion chain Next is set to mark a milestone on Thursday when results are expected to show annual profits overtaking Marks & Spencer's for the first time.

A stellar Christmas performance saw Next up its profit forecast for the second time in just over two months, with the group expecting earnings for the year to January 25 to surge by up to 12.6%.

It notched up a better-than-expected 11.9% jump in sales from November 1 to Christmas Eve, with sales up 7.7% in stores and 21% in the Next Directory catalogue and online division.

The group left rivals such as M&S in the shade, helped by its policy of not discounting before Christmas.

Next expects to earn between £684 million and £700m in its full year, up from a previous range of between £650m and £680m.

This puts it on course to make more money than M&S for the first time since it 1982 launch, with M&S predicted to see underlying annual pre-tax profits fall to £628m.

Sainsbury's is expected to break its three-year record of consistent underlying sales growth when it publishes figures tomorrow, as it battles against discount chains and comes up against tough comparatives from a year earlier.

Analysts are forecasting a decline of around 3% in like-for-like sales in a sharp reversal of recent fortunes.

The drop would bring to a close its lengthy run of sales growth, having seen underlying sales rise for 36 quarters in a row, and marks a downbeat end to the year's trading for outgoing boss Justin King. He will step down after 10 years at the annual meeting in July, and will hand over to commercial director Mike Coupe.

Sainsbury's only just held on to the sales record over Christmas, when it eked out growth of 0.2% in what it described as a "very tough sales environment".

It put in the best performance of the "big four" players, but still came under pressure as it admitted it was likely to miss expectations for a full year like-for-like sales increase of 1% to 1.5%, prompting analysts to shave annual profit forecasts.

The fourth quarter update will make for "grim reading", retail analyst Andrew Porteous at Agency Partners said. He is pencilling in a 3% drop, with the chain failing to follow a tough act from the previous year, when it outperformed rivals amid the horsemeat scandal.

Online fashion firm ASOS will reveal how it has fared after an impressive Christmas for the group when UK and international sales surged ahead. The group achieved retail revenues of £335.7m in the four months to December 31, with UK sales beating its performance a year earlier with growth of 37%, while international turnover lifted 38%.

Analysts at Nomura believe tomorrow's update will show sales growth slowing in the shorter second quarter, which covers the two months to February 28.

They are expecting overall growth of 28%, with the UK up 21% and the international division 32% ahead.

This will still put ASOS in line for first-half growth of 35%, according to Nomura.

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