* FY EBITDA down 31 pct at 201.2 mln eur, in line with fcast
* Co says Xmas sales ok but expected better
* Fiscal first quarter sales including Xmas up 1.6 pct
* Company being taken private by founding family
By Victoria Bryan and Matthias Inverardi
DUESSELDORF, Germany, Jan 22 German retailer
Douglas Holding AG said Christmas sales fell short of
its expectations after consumers stayed away from stores until
the last minute, checking out deals online instead.
The comments from the seller of perfumes to jewellery
underscore the fiercely competitive nature of the holiday season
in austerity-hit Europe, marked by retailers fighting over
shoppers' dwindling budgets with discounts and offers.
"It was ok, but we expected better," Douglas Chief Executive
Henning Kreke told journalists on Tuesday.
"There just weren't as many people out and about in the
run-up that we could draw into our shops," he said, speaking of
a trend for consumers to get information online before going
shopping in the final week before Christmas.
The group, which had already reported sales up 1.7 percent
to 3.44 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in the 12 months through
September, said revenue in its fiscal first quarter, which
includes Christmas, rose 1.6 percent.
Other retailers including Germany's Metro and, in
Britain, Dixons and Debenhams, have also spoken
of a late pick-up in trading in the final days of the Christmas
shopping period after a slow start.
The switch to online buying has been a particular problem
for Douglas's Thalia chain of bookstores, which was late to
acknowledge the threat from the likes of Amazon.com.
"Many retailers did not recognise this trend fast enough,
and I include Douglas in this. But we have taken action," Kreke
said, highlighting the launch of an e-book reader and the
planned closure of 15 of its 296 stores.
The company, publishing its last set of annual results as a
listed company following a takeover by its founding family
backed by private equity, said full-year earnings before
interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell 31 percent to
201.2 million euros, in line with its own forecast and hit by
weakness in the Thalia books division.
At Thalia, the group booked restructuring costs and
writedowns of 155 million euros for the fiscal year, dragging
the group down to a net loss of 109.9 million.
It would not be paying a dividend for the year, it added.
Jewellery was a bright spot, Douglas said, with yearly sales
at its Christ chain of stores up 9.6 percent.
Demand for diamond rings and gold watches is being fuelled
by an uncertain economic outlook, which is making shoppers in
Europe's largest economy seek out gifts more likely to retain -
and possibly increase - their value, some experts have said.
Kreke said Douglas would disappear from the stock exchange
having spent almost 50 years as a listed company. With private
equity partner Advent International, it plans to expand
internationally with both the Christ chain and its namesake
Douglas make-up and perfume stores.