ASOS to repay furlough claim after lockdown sales boost

LONDON (Reuters) - Online fashion retailer ASOS ASOS.L will repay the money it claimed under Britain's scheme to furlough workers after a rise in sales during the coronavirus lockdown put it on track to deliver annual profit towards the top end of expectations.

FILE PHOTO: A model walks on an in-house catwalk at the ASOS headquarters in London April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

The company, whose fast fashions are particularly popular with shoppers in their twenties, said on Wednesday its sales rose 10% in the four months to June 30, when store-based rivals had to close shops for weeks due to coronavirus restrictions.

In April, ASOS raised 247 million pounds ($311 million) in new equity to shore up its finances. The furlough repayment is expected to be about 1.8 million pounds.

ASOS shares were up 3.4% at 0806 GMT, extending year-on-year gains to 26%.

The group said sales in the four month period reached 1.01 billion pounds, up from 919.8 million pounds a year earlier. While UK sales fell 1%, international sales were up 17%, with sales in EU countries particularly strong.

ASOS said it saw a steady improvement through the period, reflecting increasing warehouse capacity and an underlying improvement in demand.

Its active customer base increased 16% to 23 million and the number of items sold rose 15%. However, gross margin fell 70 basis points, reflecting strong sales of lower margin products.

Against the backdrop of social distancing, restrictions on social events and an uncertain economic outlook, ASOS said it remained cautious on the short to medium term outlook on demand.

Despite that, and costs related to COVID-19 disruptions, it still forecast 2019-20 pretax profit towards the top end of market expectations. Prior to Wednesday’s update, the top end was 70 million pounds, up from the 33.1 million made in 2018-19.

“We are on track to deliver strong year-on-year profit growth and to return to positive free cash flow for the full-year,” said CEO Nick Beighton.

($1 = 0.7938 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey; editing by Sarah Young and Mark Potter