THE chief executive of JD Sports has signalled that any investment in the company’s shops will be dependent on potential negotiations with landlords as customers start to tentatively return.

Peter Cowgill said his team is encouraged by trading as the firm emerges from months of lockdown across most of its markets, but called for “rental realism” among landlords.

The firm said good performance across its outdoors businesses including Tiso and Blacks was held back by the larger Go Outdoors section.

The business said that since shops started to reopen, customers have been nervous about returning to densely occupied enclosed spaces such as shopping centres.

READ MORE: JD Sports buys Go Outdoors back after tumbling into administration

Initial footfall since stores started opening has been weaker, with Northern Europe particularly badly hit at weekends.

By March 23, JD Sports had closed 98 per cent of its physical stores across the 14 countries in which it operates.

Online trading continued and has been resilient, the company said.

It comes as the business reported record figures for the year ending February 1, just as the coronavirus was starting to come to Europe.

Pre-tax profit was up 3% to £348.5 million, on revenue of £6.1 billion, a 30% rise.

It opened 52 more shops in mainland Europe than it closed over the year. In Asia-Pacific the number of stores it runs increased by 18.

Mr Cowgill said: “Looking longer term, there is inevitably considerable uncertainty as to what the effect of Covid-19 will be on consumer behaviour and footfall, with future store investments highly dependent on rental realism and lease flexibility.”

The firm said in its update: “This has been a challenging period for our outdoor businesses overall, with an improved result in the Blacks and Tiso businesses overshadowed by a significant loss in the larger Go Outdoors business.” Shares closed at 668.4p, down 0.92%.