Like-for-like sales at Primark rose 4% in the first half buoyed by a strong performance at Christmas when its novelty jumpers flew off the shelves.

The retailer today reported that sales were 13% up at constant currency rates in the half to March 1 and 14% at actual rates due to a strong euro.

Sales were also driven by an increase in retail selling space and superior sales densities in the larger new stores, the retailer said.

Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) said: “Operating profit margin is now expected to be higher than in the same period last year, benefiting from warehouse and distribution efficiencies and lower freight rates.”

Like-for-like sales in the first eight weeks of the financial year were held back by unseasonably warm weather and strong comparatives in the previous year, but the rest of the period saw “excellent trading” including the Christmas period, ABF said. 

New store openings have added 8% more selling space since the last half year and Primark opened 16 new shops, including its first two stores in France which have traded “strongly”.

In Spain, Primark opened six new stores and closed the smaller of its two stores in La Coruña and Zaragoza, bringing the total there to 39. 

Capital expenditure at Primark is expected to be ahead of last year as it add a further 500,000 sq ft of selling space this financial year, including opening in three suburban shopping centres in Paris.