FASHION retailer Next has enjoyed a 19 per cent rise in half-year profits as the improving economy, low interest rates and a warm summer encouraged shoppers to spend.

The company said total sales rose 10.3 per cent to £1.85 billion in the six months to the end of July, including a 7.5 per cent rise to £1.08bn in its stores.

Next said the last six months had brought "its strongest sales growth for many years".

The retailer has 37 shops in Scotland as part of its 500-site portfolio across the UK and Ireland.

The firm's home shopping business Next Directory has also been trading well, with a 16.2 per cent rise in sales to £694.3m as UK customers spent more and expansion overseas paid off.

The retailer started trading online in 11 new countries including Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and China and now has 3.5m customers registered in the UK and 429,000 overseas.

Pre-tax profits rose 19.3 per cent to £324.2m.

Shares in the company fell XX per cent to XXXX yesterday, despite the strong performance.

The company said the figures were "in some part down to external factors... We remain mindful that some of these factors are likely to be less favourable next year and this year's fine summer weather could present tough comparatives next year, when interest rates are also expected to rise."

Next stuck to its guidance from July when it forecast sales growth of between seven and ten per cent in the full year to the end of January and pre-tax profit growth of between 11 and 17 per cent.

The retailer overtook high street stalwart Marks & Spencer's profits earlier this year.

"Another strong set of results confirms Next's ability to make the most of the generally favourable retail backdrop and further underlines its status as the quality sector heavyweight," said analysts at Numis in a research note.

Chief executive Simon Wolfson said the company plans to expand into larger format stores this year, following the success of its new custom-built fashion and home outlet at Hedge End in Hampshire.

"I think if we could go back 20 years we would all build slightly nicer out of town stores," said Lord Wolfson yesterday.

He said the retailer was also experimenting with premium clothing ranges "at prices we would previously have shied away from".

Next's end of season sales have changed this year, with online mark-down sales rising 13.3 per cent, meaning less stock made it into the sales at high street stores.

Next has returned £223m to shareholders through special dividends during 2014.

The firm said yesterday it does not intend to pay any more until next year.

However, it expects to raise its ordinary dividend payout by 16.3 per cent to 150 per share.