By  on January 7, 2009

LONDON — Like their U.S. counterparts, British retailers are having a tough ride. Marks and Spencer Group plc is expected to announce up to 1,000 job cuts today along with a fall in sales.

However, Christmas sales — at least for some — were not as bleak as expected.

The department store chain Debenhams reported a 3.5 percent drop in sales for the 18 weeks ended Jan. 3. The company said Tuesday that pretax profits for the period had risen compared with the same period last year, due to an extraordinary gain, “tight management of costs and stocks and our decision to focus on the levers that drive cash margin.”

Fashion retailer Next reported a 7 percent decline in sales in the 21 weeks to Dec. 24, compared with the same period last year. But the company said the fall in sales was “within the guidance” that Next had given in September.

“This was despite a worsening consumer environment and a significant increase in competitor markdown activity prior to Christmas,” the company said Tuesday, adding that it had resisted discounting its products before Christmas and that “stocks were well controlled going into the end of season sale.”

Next said it expects to achieve its profit forecast of between 415 million and 435 million pounds, or $611 million to $641 million at current exchange, for the year to January 2009. The company’s shares rose 13 percent to 1,222 pence, or $17.87, per share, on the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday afternoon following the news.

Meanwhile, New Look, the fast-fashion retailer owned by Apax Partners and Permira, reported an uptick in sales, despite the muted consumer mood over the Christmas period. The company said same-store sales in the U.K. Rose 2.8 percent in the 14 weeks to Jan. 3, while New Look’s group sales rose 14.5 percent during the period, driven by store expansion in the U.K. and Europe.

“We are winning in an increasingly difficult market by staying focused on the delivery of the fashion our customers want at prices they can afford,” said Phil Wrigley, executive chairman of New Look, on Tuesday. The company also revealed plans to open a store in Moscow early this year.

And at the opposite end of the market, Liberty, the Regent Street specialty store, also fared well in the holiday period. While the company did not release sales figures, it said sales in December had “exceeded expectations” and that sales at its online store also grew last month.

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