NEXT has boosted its profit forecast for the year after better-than-expected sales in the run up to Christmas.

The high street fashion business shrugged off the recent malaise affecting retailers to post a 5.2 per cent increase in sales for the period to December 28, which it said was 1.1% ahead of company forecasts.

Next said it believes its sales for the Christmas period were bolstered by a “much colder November than last year and improved stock availability” in both retail stores and online.

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Full price sales for the 11 months to the end of December rose by 3.9% as the retailer also predicted sales growth would surpass previous expectations.

The company said that it expects sales to continue to be 3.9% higher by the end of the financial year, January 31, up from the previous guidance of 3.6% growth for the year.

Total sales in retail stores slipped 4.6% over the year-to-date, while they were 3.9% lower for the two months to December.

However, Next was buoyed by continued online growth, as digital sales rose 12.1% for the year-to-date, driven by a 15.3% jump in the most recent period.

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The company said it now expects to post a full-year profit of around £727 million, raising its previous forecast by £2m.

The company said in its statement to the London Stock Exchange: “As usual, our intention is to return surplus cash to shareholders through share buybacks or special dividends.

“Our buyback share price limit will continue to be based on achieving a minimum 8% equivalent rate of return on shares purchased.”

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, hailed the figures: “This was an impressive end to the year as their outstanding online business continues to set them apart from the competition.

“The retailer is benefitting from years of investment in their digital proposition, continually evolving their business model to meet shoppers’ heightened expectations.”