UPDATE 1-Moss Bros' hire sales falls on subdued UK wedding market

Fri May 23, 2014 5:00am EDT

(Adds analyst comments, details; updates share movement)

May 23 (Reuters) - British suit specialist Moss Bros Group reported a decline in its high-margin hire-sales business during the 16-weeks to May 17 as less people borrowed outfits in a subdued UK wedding market.

Shares in the company fell as much as 4 percent in early trading on Friday on the London Stock Exchange.

Moss Bros reported a rise in March wedding outfits booking but cautioned that it was too early to say if this upturn would be sustained.

"Hire sales are down 3.8 percent over the period, reflecting continued weakness in the number of weddings," analyst John Stevenson of Peel Hunt said in a note.

Hire sales contribute about 16 percent to overall sales.

The company, which sells and hires out formal clothing in the UK through its Moss Bros, Moss, Moss Bros Hire and Savoy Taylors Guild brands, however, said it remained confident about the company's medium-term growth prospects.

The menswear specialist reported a 5.4 percent rise in total sales for the period, while like-for-like sales increased 6.3 percent helped by increasing contribution from revamped stores and the lower levels of residual stock.

Moss Bros, which operates 135 stores, revamped a further seven stores so far this year as part of its five-year refurbishment programme launched in 2012.

Like-for-like retail sales, including e-commerce, rose 8.5 percent helped by favourable customer response to new season's ranges.

Moss Bros has been aiming to build its online business, which is growing steadily but currently accounts for 6.5 percent of total sales.

The company has kept a lid on costs by avoiding heavy discounting. Rival Debenhams had issued its second profit warning in less than a year in December after a long-held strategy of slashing prices failed to boost its crucial Christmas sales.

Shares in the company were down 1.6 percent at 120.50 pence at 0855 GMT. (Reporting by Aastha Agnihotri in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)