US jewellery retailer Signet has painted a bleak future for its UK business after posting a 24 per cent fall in first-quarter profits.

The owner of H Samuel and Ernest Jones in the UK revealed group pre-tax profits fell to US$38.6 million (£19.8 million) in the 13 weeks to May 5, after US sales were hit hard by the downturn.

The world’s largest speciality jeweller, which trades as Kay Jeweller and Jared the Galleria of Jewelery in the US, said total sales rose 1 per cent to US$822.5 million (£420.6 million) in the 13 weeks to May 5. Like-for-like sales fell 2.5 per cent during the period.

Like-for-like sales in the UK rose 5.3 per cent in the UK, while the US suffered from a 4.7 per cent fall.

However, chief executive Terry Burman said he expected sales growth in the UK to stall. He said: “Given the increasing pressure on consumer expenditure in the UK and demanding second-quarter comparatives, like-for-like growth is not expected to continue at this level.”

UK sales, which represent 26 per cent of group sales, were up 5.1 per cent during the period to US$191.4 million (£97.9 million). Operating profits were US$2.7 million (£1.4 million) against a US$1.9 million (£971,618) loss for the same period last year.

Signet has reduced the number of store refits and relocations at its Ernest Jones brand from 46 to about 35 for 2008/09.

Total sales in the US were flat at US$631.1 million (£322.7 million), with operating profits at US$45.5 million (£23.3 million), down from US$59.9 million (£30.6 million) the previous year.

Investec analyst David Jeary said: “We continue to see Signet as a very good business in a very difficult consumer market.”