UPDATE 2-ASOS set to smash 1 bln stg sales target a year early
* Set to hit 1 bln stg of sales in 2013-14 year
* Q4 retail sales up 47 pct to 207.9 mln stg
* 2012-13 retail sales up 40 pct 753.8 mln stg
* Sees 2012-13 profit ahead of expectations
* Shares rise up to 10.8 pct (Adds CEO, analyst comments, detail, background, shares)
By James Davey
LONDON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - British online fashion retailer ASOS is on track to hit its 1 billion pound ($1.6 billion) annual sales target a year early, underscoring the dramatic shift to internet shopping and the urgency for traditional store groups to adapt.
ASOS, founded by former advertising executive Nick Robertson in 2000, has been the big success story in British retailing in recent years, with its fast-changing fashions snapped up by internet-savvy twentysomethings and attracting fans including U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and singer Rita Ora.
Its shares have rocketed - the firm now has a market value of 4.3 billion pounds, more than Debenhams, SuperGroup , Ted Baker, Laura Ashley and French Connection combined - and could be a member of the blue-chip FTSE-100 if it switched from the junior AIM market.
Robertson, the great grandson of tailor Austin Reed, said there was no sign of growth slowing. UK online sales are currently rising around 14.4 percent year-on-year, according to researchers Kantar Worldpanel, while data on Thursday showed total UK retail sales up 2.1 percent in August.
ASOS has also expanded overseas and plans to launch a Chinese-language website in October.
"It's feeling that this (2013-14) should be our first billion pound year," Robertson told Reuters, after ASOS posted a better-than-expected 47 percent jump in retail sales for its fiscal fourth-quarter and said profit for the full financial year would be marginally ahead of expectations.
The target to achieve 1 billion pounds of sales in 2014-15 was set three years ago, when ASOS was turning over 223 million pounds. Robertson said revenue targets were likely to be reset when ASOS reports full-year results in October.
SHOOTING THE LIGHTS OUT
"A phenomenal model and first rate execution," said Jefferies analyst David Reynolds, though he raised some concerns about a potential rise in returned purchases and the cost of delivering goods more quickly to ever more demanding shoppers.
Some analysts are also unnerved by ASOS's sky-high valuation, which means it has little margin for error.
The company is one of the most highly-rated shares on Britain's stock market, trading at 99.9 times analysts' 2012-13 earnings forecasts, according to Reuters data. That compares with 27.7 times and 25.6 times for world's top two clothing retailers, Inditex and H&M respectively.
On Thursday, however, ASOS shares made further strong gains, and at 0955 GMT were up 9.7 percent at 5,302 pence. The stock was floated at just 20 pence in 2001.
"The UK shot the lights out," Robertson said of fourth-quarter sales, noting best sellers included slip dresses, pink fabrics and styles with a nod to the punk scene of the 1970s.
Group retail sales totalled 207.9 million pounds for the three months to Aug. 31, taking the total for the full year to 753.8 million pounds, up 40 percent.
Fourth-quarter UK sales jumped 49 percent to 74.1 million pounds, with international sales up 47 percent to 133.8 million pounds, driven by stronger growth in countries where the firm has dedicated websites and in-country teams, notably in the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
ASOS sells over 65,000 branded and own-label products, shipping for free to 237 countries.
Prior to the fourth-quarter update, analysts' were on average forecasting a pretax profit for the 2012-13 year of 52.5 million pounds, up from 44.5 million pounds in 2011-12.
Robertson said the firm had no current plans to switch to the FTSE-100 index.
($1 = 0.6262 British pounds) (Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter)
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