General merchandise to DIY group Home Retail has posted a surge in first-half profits, powered by the Argos catalogue store chain.

The group reported a 40 per cent leap in benchmark pre-tax profits to£149.8 million on sales 3 per cent ahead to£2.74 billion.

Argos, assisted by the July launch of its biggest ever catalogue, new product ranges and lower prices, notched up a 50 per cent operating profits increase to£99.5 million.

The chain’s like-for-likes advanced 1.4 per cent in the period and internet sales rose 28 per cent to account for 12 per cent of total sales.

Stablemate DIY chain Homebase managed a 12 per cent operating profits increase, despite a 0.3 per cent decline in total sales to£853.9 million. Improved gross margin helped counterbalance a 2.5 per cent comparable store sales decline.

Home Retail chief executive Terry Duddy said the group had performed “very strongly” in the first half.

He was cautious about the outlook for Christmas, but said: “As we move into the key seasonal period both businesses continue to enhance their customer offers, while benefiting from the leverage of our shared group operations.”

The retailer is launching an Indian Argos joint venture later this month, when a trial 4,700-product catalogue will be launched. A variety of store formats will be tested in the Mumbai area.

Home Retail this month opened its first UK HomeStore & More homewares shop, following its acquisition of a 33 per cent stake in the Irish retailer in April. A second store will open in the second half.

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