STOCKHOLM The world's second-biggest apparel retailer Hennes & Mauritz (HMb.ST) on Thursday unexpectedly posted a small decrease in July like-for-like sales, the first monthly drop since March.
Sales in stores open at least a year at the Swedish budget fashion firm were down 1 percent in local currencies in July from a year earlier, against a mean forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts for a 1 percent rise.
Total sales in the month - the second of H&M's fiscal third quarter - were up 9 percent in local currencies, against a forecast for a 10 percent rise.
Apparel firms have faced tough times in Europe as the economic downturn and uncertain outlook make consumers hold on tighter to their wallets, and H&M has seen competition toughen in its low-price segment.
H&M, which has the bulk of business in Europe, did not comment on the data on Thursday. It said it had 2,940 stores on July 31, up from 2,603 a year earlier.
The quarter had had a healthy start with comparable sales up 3 percent in June, their fastest pace in 9 months. In the second quarter, consumer gloom and bad weather in Europe led to more markdowns than planned and a larger profit drop than expected.
Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson said in mid-June that new collections had sold surprisingly well to date. But he cautioned this could be down to pent-up demand after chilly weather held back spring shopping, rather than a rise in underlying demand.
H&M's shares, which are up nearly 10 percent this year, trade at 23.8 times forecast 2013 earnings, just below biggest rival Inditex' (ITX.MC) 24.9 times multiple, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom)