Japanese sale nears
HMV Group's profits before tax and exceptionals halved to£48.1 million in the 52 weeks to April 28, but current trading has picked up, with like-for-like sales up 3.8 per cent.

The retailer, which also owns the Waterstone's book chain, said group sales rose 3.8 per cent to£1.89 billion, but like-for-likes slid 3 per cent.

HMV Group chief executive Simon Fox said: 'Our markets are changing profoundly. Entertainment is being generated and consumed in entirely different ways, putting pressure on traditional retail space and traffic. Similar trends are also evident in the book market.'

However, the group said its strategic plan, announced in March, to drive cost efficiency, protect and revitalise its core business and grow revenue from new channels, is on track.

HMV said it had completed a review of its strategic options for HMV Japan and is now in discussions that may lead it to a disposal. Pali International analyst Nick Bubb said: 'We suspect that HMV will be happy to take£70 million [for the business]. This is useful, given net debt of£130 million, but it will not be enough for HMV to restart the share buy-back programme, or prevent the interest rate on their debt going up sharply this year.'

Like-for-likes are up 8.8 per cent at HMV UK and Ireland in the 8 weeks to June 23. Fox said: 'The benefits of our actions are beginning to come through and are reflected in the good start we have made to our new financial year.'

Bubb added: 'Current UK trading does look surprisingly good given the very weak comparisons versus the World Cup and hot June last year.'

Separately, HMV announced it is to sell downloads, which can be played on any type of digital music player via its web site from September. The retailer will have an initial range of more than 1 million tracks, which can also be played on Apple's iPod players.

HMV e-commerce director Gideon Lask said: 'We're excited to be making MP3 downloads available through HMV, as this is consistent with our ethos of giving our customers the widest possible access to music, however and whenever they wish to enjoy it.'