Next Puts Brave Face on U.K. Lockdown, Seeing Rebound From July

Next Plc is learning to live with lockdowns.

Chief Executive Officer Simon Wolfson said the worsening pandemic and the U.K.’s new Covid-related restrictions won’t ruin the whole year as the clothing chain is better prepared now than during previous closures.

“This is traditionally the quietest time of year, so I don’t expect the impact to be as big as during the first lockdown,” Wolfson said in an interview. “We are also much better geared up to deal with a lockdown than we were the first time around.”

Next shares rose as much as 8.8% in London after the linchpin of British shopping areas reported better-than-expected full-price sales for the holiday period, helped by its online strength. Those gains will be eroded by the new lockdown, the chain said Tuesday, but it’s looking ahead to a rebound after mass vaccinations kick in later this year.

“We expect a severe impact in February and March, less so in April and May and then from July onwards we expect a return to more normal business,” Wolfson said.

The clothing chain said it expects to report a pretax profit of 370 million pounds ($503 million) for its fiscal year before two one-off charges. Profit in the year ahead could reach 670 million pounds, assuming full-price sales at the same level of the year before the pandemic.

Next’s relatively sanguine take on the effects of the pandemic contrast with the general gloom in Britain’s retail industry, with companies such as Topshop owner Arcadia Group Ltd. and Debenhams Plc having collapsed into insolvency.

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