UPDATE 1-ASOS sales surge again on strong home demand

Wed Mar 20, 2013 3:51am EDT

By Neil Maidment

LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - British online fashion retailer ASOS posted a 37 percent rise in second quarter sales, buoyed by a better than expected home performance and strong overseas growth.

ASOS, whose celebrity fans include United States First Lady Michelle Obama, said on Wednesday retail sales had risen to 186 million pounds ($281 million) in the three months to Feb. 28.

That was better than a market forecast for a 34 percent sales rise, and ahead of a 30 percent jump in its first quarter. Sales had jumped by 41 percent in December alone after strong Christmas demand in Britain.

"Our UK performance remained ahead of expectations," Chief Executive Nick Robertson said. "We remain positive in our outlook for the year to 31 August 2013 and continue to trade in line with expectations."

While the UK's traditional high street has suffered as consumers worry about jobs and squeezed household incomes, online retailers are faring far better, with ASOS in particular bucking the gloom.

The firm, which targets young women looking to emulate the designer looks of celebrities like Nicole Scherzinger and Cara Delevingne, modestly described its performance in the first half of the year as "robust" and reaffirmed its positive outlook.

"We believe that ASOS is continuing to demonstrate its potential to become the online fashion destination for 20-somethings globally," Numis analysts said.

The group said its home market remained ahead of expectations in the second quarter with sales up 28 percent to 75.5 million pounds, compared to 12 percent growth a year ago.

International sales rose 45 percent, up from a 34 percent rise in its first quarter, to almost 111 million pounds.

ASOS said its retail gross margin slipped 50 basis points in the quarter but was expected to improve in the second half as last year's own-brand pricing reductions annualised.

Shares in ASOS, which have risen 77 percent in the last 12 months, closed Tuesday at 3111 pence, valuing the business at around 2.5 billion pounds.

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