Retail chain Next, which has around 20 stores in Northern Ireland, has increased its annual profit outlook after better-than-expected Christmas trading, but warned of further price rises and falling profits in a difficult year ahead.
The high street giant posted a 4.8% rise in total full-price sales for the nine weeks to December 30, with growth surging to 17% in the final two weeks, as the cold snap and resilient shopper confidence boosted its performance.
It had previously guided for a 2% fall in sales over the festive period.
Shares in the group jumped more than 7% higher as Next said it now expects full-year sales of £4.6bn, up 6.9% on the year before, and for pre-tax profits to rise 4.5% to £860m against the £840m it pencilled in last November.
But the fashion group said the year to January 2024 will be tougher as the cost-of-living crisis bites, guiding for pre-tax profits to fall 7.6% to £795m on sales 1.5% lower.
It said the group remains "cautious in our outlook for the year ahead", pointing to consumer demand being affected by the cost-of-living and energy crisis, rising mortgage costs and its own price hikes.
Further price rises are also expected and set to peak at about 8% in the spring, but will ease back thereafter to "no more than" 6% in the second half as currency pressures and freight costs decline, Next predicted.