Slow watch sales at Ernest Jones blamed
Signet Group posted like-for-like sales up 5.9 per cent for the nine weeks to December 30, but UK performance lagged behind US sales.

Challenging trading conditions in the UK meant the business achieved like-for-like sales up 1.7 per cent for the nine-week period, with total sales up 0.8 per cent. By contrast, the US division posted a like-for-like increase of 7.5 per cent.

Slow sales of watches at Ernest Jones was largely to blame for the weaker UK performance.

The retailer said: 'In line with the division's strategy the average selling price and diamond participation increased again. H Samuel's performance was encouraging and benefited from a range of initiatives undertaken during 2006. Ernest Jones' performance over Christmas was below that of the year to date, primarily due to a slowing in the growth of the watch category.'

Ernest Jones, which makes up about 11 per cent of the total group, had comparable stores sales of 0.4 per cent for the same period. H Samuel, which accounts for about 15 per cent of the group, had like-for-likes of 2.7 per cent.

Overall like-for-like sales at the group for the 48 weeks to December 30 were up 5.5 per cent. Comparable sales at the UK division were up 1.2 per cent and at the US division were up 7.1 per cent. Group chief executive Terry Burman said profit before tax for 2006/07 would be within the range of market estimates between£205 million and£212 million on a 53-week basis.