November 22, 2012 / 7:46 AM / in 5 years

UPDATE 1-Mothercare narrows loss as sales pick-up

* H1 underlying pretax loss 0.6 mln stg vs loss of 4.4 mln stg

* H1 international lfl sales up 4.4 pct; UK LfL sales down 3.4 pct

* Worldwide network sales up 2.1 pct at 636.8 mln stg

LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - British baby products retailer Mothercare narrowed its losses for the first half of the year as international sales growth and an improving UK performance helped boost business.

The company on Thursday said it had made an underlying pretax loss of 0.6 million pounds ($956,100) in the 28 weeks to Oct. 13, compared with a loss of 4.4 million pounds in the same period last year.

Mothercare is cutting prices and improving its delivery service to help fight intense competition from British supermarkets and the Internet and in October posted its first UK underlying sales growth in 11 quarters.

The group, which has 1,378 worldwide stores, including 280 in the UK, said British like-for-like sales had declined by 3.4 percent in the period, improving on a 7 percent fall in the period a year ago.

Overseas, where Mothercare has plans to open 150 stores this year, like-for-like sales rose 4.4 percent although growth in Europe, its biggest international market, was dampened by weak trading conditions in the euro zone. It said it expected similar overseas sales growth in its second half.

Total first-half worldwide network sales rose 2.1 percent to 636.8 million pounds. Losses in Britain narrowed to 17.0 million pounds, while international profit rose 20 percent to 22.1 million pounds.

As part of new chief executive Simon Calver’s turnaround strategy the group closed 31 UK stores in the first half, and said it was on target to close 50 in total for the year.

Shares in the firm, which on Wednesday named Argos finance director Matt Smith as its new chief financial officer, closed at 292 pence on Wednesday, more than double that of a year ago, valuing the business at 260 million pounds.

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