Autumn/winter sales down
The specialist department store operator Beales has warned that its performance this year is likely to be slightly below expectations because of poor sales in autumn and winter last year.

In a statement ahead of this afternoon's AGM, the company said that trading was encouraging, but that it was not sufficient to compensate for the last three months of 2006.

Like-for-like sales were flat in the past eight weeks, but were down 3.3 per cent in the 20 weeks to March 17 compared with the same period last year. Sales were down 4 per cent over the 20-week period.

Beales blamed the decline on tough comparisons. Figures for the same period last year were lifted by high sales volumes ahead of the closure of its store at Walton-on-Thames in Surrey.

Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner said: '[These results] are no real surprise to us. The company has a record of two steps forward, three steps backwards. It has a disparate portfolio in terms of geographical location and size. [It is] going nowhere without a bid and [there is] no sign of one at present.'

Beales will launch a transactional web site in May following a successful pilot last Christmas.

The company's financial year will end on November 3 this year.