Sainsbury's attempts to slash costs by £500 million started in earnest on Thursday as the supermarket revealed it took a £203 million hit to its balance sheet from a series of store closures.

As a result, pre-tax profits fell to £9 million in the six months to September 21 from £107 million a year ago, although the company insists its plans are on track, with improvements to pricing and product ranges.

On Sainsbury's preferred underlying measure, which strips out the one-off costs, pre-tax profits were £238 million - down 14%.

Sales during the period were flat at £15.1 billion. Like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, were down 1% during the period, although Sainsbury's said a 1.6% fall in the first quarter of the financial year improved in the second - down just 0.2%.

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Grocery was down 0.1% in the half - although the second quarter again improved, up 0.6% on a like-for-like basis.

The supermarket improved sales across its businesses, which also includes Argos, throughout the second quarter of the year.
General merchandise sales fell 2% in the second quarter, compared with a 3.1% fall in the first, and Clothing grew 3.3% in Q2 compared with a 4.5% fall in Q1.

Chief executive Mike Coupe welcomed the results, pointing out that his strategy to reduce prices and improve availability is working.

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He said: "We are investing in hundreds of Sainsbury's and Argos stores, introducing new products and services and continually improving service and availability. As a result, customer satisfaction has increased significantly year on year."

In September, Mr Coupe updated investors on his plans, which will see 125 stores close, including Argos branches, but will open even more.

Sainsbury's said net store openings will be between 75 and 125 - although 80 of these will be Argos concessions opened in the grocer's larger supermarket sites. Around 60 to 70 Argos standalone branches will close.

Ten large Sainsbury's stores and 110 smaller ones will open under the plans, with 15 supermarkets and 40 convenience stores to close.

Persimmon has said its plan to put customers ahead of volume ate into the number of homes it sold over the last six months.

Sales of new homes fell 6% in the first half of the financial year, it revealed on Thursday.

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This was in large part down to a new policy of only selling homes to customers when they were closer to being fully built, said chief executive Dave Jenkinson.

Over the six months the number of sales it completed fell to 7,584 homes. It expects a similar effect in the second half of the year, although it is likely to sell more as the market is more active in autumn and winter.

"Persimmon's top priority is the delivery of higher levels of quality and customer service through the implementation of its detailed customer care improvement plan. Central to this plan is putting customers before volume," Mr Jenkinson said.

Aston Martin tumbled to a £92.3 million pre-tax loss for the past three quarters as sales volumes slid on "tough trading conditions" in the UK and Europe.

The luxury car manufacturer swung to the loss for the nine months to September from a £23.9 million pre-tax profit in the same period last year as its recent sales downturn continued.

Revenues and wholesale volumes for the Aston Martin Lagonda group both saw double-digit declines in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, total revenues fell 7% to £657.2 million for the year-to-date, after sales in the third quarter dived 11% to £250.1 million.