Retailers were able to muster some new year cheer after notching up robust Christmas performances despite the bloodbath on the high street.

Retailers told Retail Week the Christmas rush came very late, with a strong uplift during the January Sales.

House of Fraser reported total sales climbed 4 per cent in the five weeks to January 3. The retailer is understood to have paid back£34.4 million of banking facilities due on January 2.

Fast-fashion retailer Peacocks is expected to reveal flat like-for-likes, with good gains on margins and gross profits, in the 14 weeks to early January. The retailer is also thought to have secured£20 million from private equity backers Och Ziff and Perry Capital to fund expansion in 2009.

Young-fashion retailer Blue Inc reported like-for-like sales rose 6 per cent over Christmas and will report record sales and profits for 2008. Like-for-likes at Republic increased 6.8 per cent in the 10 weeks to January 4.

Single-price retailers Poundland and 99p Stores said like-for-likes were in positive territory over the Christmas period, with 99p Stores up 5.3 per cent in the 13 weeks to January 3.

Health and beauty retailer Superdrug reported like-for-like sales for the five weeks to January 3 up 3 per cent, while rival Boots is expected to update next week.

Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose described the retailer’s seasonal performance as “pretty robust”. He defended M&S’s pre-Christmas promotional stance as he posted a 7.1 per cent like-for-like sales fall over the festive period.

Rose, who intends to slash costs by up to£200 million and cut more than 1,200 jobs in response to tough conditions, said margin sacrifice was correct in the light of fragile consumer confidence, that clothing margin share had been maintained and volumes grew strongly.

However, retailers were cautious for 2009 and many said trade had slowed this week.

Big-ticket furniture retailers reported mixed fortunes for the start of the key Boxing Day Sales.

Bensons for Beds defied the gloom to report a like-for-like rise of 4.2 per cent for the first 10 days of its Sale. DFS, which was aiming for single-digit decreases, said it achieved its Sale targets.

DFS chairman Lord Kirkham said: “In this environment I don’t think anybody can expect to increase their bottom line.”

Other furniture retailers were less enthused. One said big-ticket retailers are down between 30 and 40 per cent on average like for like. “Last week we were down 10 per cent like for like, which was a really good week,” he said.

“But the market will be impaired for at least the next 18 months.”

Those for whom Christmas came too late

The retail sector suffered an unprecedented number of administrations over the Christmas period.

  • On December 23, Whittard of Chelsea went into administration and was bought out the same day by private equity group Epic. While Woolworths prepared to shut up shop, its demise forced music chain Zavvi – whose main supplier was the variety chain’s EUK subsidiary – into administration on Christmas Eve.

  • Childrenswear retailer Adams has shut 111 stores with the loss of 850 jobs after it collapsed at the end of the year. Chairman John Shannon, who rescued the chain from administration two years ago, is among several interested parties considering buying the business from administrator PricewaterhouseCoopers.

  • Sir Tom Hunter’s West Coast Capital bought its fashion chain USC out of administration just before the new year, saving 1,100 jobs.

  • The Officers Club was also rescued from administration by its management and French fashion retailer Morgan was forced to file for bankruptcy.

This week fragrance retailer Passion for Perfume, womenswear chain Viyella and china and glass retailer Wedgwood became the latest victims of the downturn.

As Retail Week went to press, the future of maternity chain Blooming Marvellous, backed by Icelandic investment group Arev, hung in the balance as administrator Zolfo Cooper was understood to be
on standby.

Separately, fashion group Mosaic, which owns brands including Karen Millen, Oasis and Warehouse, is understood to be in talks with lender Kaupthing to secure the future of its business