Sports Direct posts higher sales and profits

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley (L) is interviewed by a journalist as he leaves the annual general meeting of Sports Direct in Shirebrook, central England, September 10, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Staples

LONDON (Reuters) - Sports Direct, the sportswear retailer controlled by the millionaire owner of Newcastle United, posted higher sales and profit on Thursday helped by growth in its core UK business.

Total group sales for the nine weeks ending March 27 rose 10.3 percent to 236 million pounds, while gross profit increased by 7.3 percent to 88 million pounds.

Sports Direct added it expected to meet its target for reaching full year underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of at least 205 million pounds.

“We are pleased with the progress made by the group and these results continue to highlight the strength of our Retail division and the drive from our investment in margin and advertising,” Chief Executive Dave Forsey said in a statement.

Sports Direct also said it intended to extend a company bonus share scheme.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley established the Sports Direct business after he left school in 1982. Ashley still controls a majority shareholding in the company.

Sports Direct shares closed up 1.5 percent at 198.90 pence Wednesday, giving the company a market capitalisation of around 1.2 billion pounds. The stock has risen by nearly 20 percent over the last three months.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter