New Look is to step up its international expansion plans and refit stores in the UK after Christmas trading produced reduced like-for-like sales but stronger profits. Financial Times

Like-for-like sales fell by 3.4% in the 15 weeks to January, while total sales – helped by new stores – increased by 9.7%. Gross margin improved by 4 percentage points after New Look anticipated a slowdown and bought conservatively to avoid the need for heavy discounting.

'[We] kept stocks tight so we didn’t need to get rid of excess,' said Phil Wrigley, chief executive. 'This has been a significantly more profitable Christmas for us than last year.'

New Look is to open an additional 14 stores in the Middle East by summer and is scouting out new European markets to supplement France and Belgium, where it already has a presence.

It will also spend more on refurbishing stores after trials showed an 8% like-for-like sales rise. 'We throw up a lot of cash – in excess of £200m before interest and capex [capital expenditure] and we’ve been consistently spending £100m on capex,' said Wrigley.