(Corrects headline and first paragraph to say revenue fell due to closure of non-performing stores, not due to a fall in demand. Also corrects attribution in paragraphs 5,9 and 20 to COO Neil Williams from CEO Stephen Marks)
* Group revenue down 4 pct to 189.4 mln stg
* Retail revenue down 4.8 pct to 117.5 mln stg
* Full-year underlying pretax loss narrows to 4.4 mln stg
* Shares fall as much as 6 percent
By Noor Zainab Hussain
March 12 (Reuters) - British fashion retailer French Connection Group Plc, which is trying to turn around its business after years of weak sales, reported another decline in annual revenue mainly due to the closure of non-contributing stores.
Shares in the company, best known for its FCUK brand of clothes and accessories, fell as much as 6 percent in early trading on the London Stock Exchange.
The company said revenue fell 4 percent in the year ended Jan. 31 due to the closure of non-contributing stores, coupled with lower first-half like-for-like retail sales in the regions.
French Connection last year announced plans to reduce inventory levels, redesign product ranges and increase the flexibility of its buying teams as well as reviewing pricing as part of a plan to restore the fortunes of its retail division.
“The company reduced costs by shutting down 10 non-performing stores and also by keeping a close eye on staff rostering,” Chief Operating Officer Neil Williams told Reuters on Wednesday.
Revenue fell to 189.4 million pounds ($314.93 million)for the year ended Jan. 31 from 197.3 million pounds a year earlier.
The second straight fall in annual revenue overshadowed a reduction in the underlying pretax loss. French Connection has posted losses in five of its last six financial years.
The company also said it would not declare a dividend, choosing instead to use cash reserves to support the turnaround.
“I think given the results that we have achieved here, we are in a good way to achieving that (profitability by 2015), but we’ll have to wait and see how this year goes,” Williams told Reuters.
Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Freddie George said it would take longer than that for the company to turn in a profit.
“The company ... has to substantially increase its UK sales densities before it is profitable in its own domestic market, which remains a ‘big ask’ in our view,” George said in a note.
Retail revenue fell 4.8 percent to 117.5 million pounds due to shorter summer and Christmas sale periods, the company said.
The company delayed its Christmas sale by one week, offering between 30 percent and 60 percent reduction in prices.
The North American retail business was also hurt by a tough economic environment, extreme weather conditions towards the end of the year and the closure of one store.
Revenue from the company’s wholesale operations fell 2.7 percent to 71.9 million pounds.
The company reported a smaller underlying pretax loss, helped by lower expenses and stronger trading in the second half of the year.
Underlying pretax loss narrowed to 4.4 million pounds from a loss of 7.2 million pounds a year earlier.
Group operating expenses fell by 6.9 percent.
French Connection said it benefited as its retail division reduced operating losses by 3.8 million pounds over the year.
The retailer - which operates retail and wholesale businesses in the UK, Europe, United States, Canada, Hong Kong and China - expects to close three to five more stores this year, Williams added.
French Connection said total revenue in the second-half was 1.8 percent lower than a year earlier, an improvement from the first-half, when it fell 6.4 percent from the comparative period.
Like-for-like sales in UK and Europe rose 1.4 percent, compared with a fall of 4.5 percent a year earlier.
E-commerce sales grew in the year by 8.1 percent, accounting for 20 percent of total group retail sales.
Along with the French Connection brand - which accounts for almost 90 percent of revenue - the company operates wholesale-only ladies-wear range Great Plains, e-commerce fashion and homewares brand Toast, and men’s and women’s wear brand YMC.
Shares in the London-based company were trading down about 1.6 percent at 62.00 pence at 1115 GMT. ($1 = 0.6014 British Pounds) (Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)