Will it be boom or bust for retail?

Top store groups are poised to issue benchmark trading statements over the next week, finally confirming or contradicting fears that the racing retail sector has hit a brick wall.

Despite broad agreement that many found November trading slow, a question mark still remains over the impact of the last-minute shopping spree in late December.

Supermarket sector leader Tesco will announce figures on Tuesday. Marks & Spencer reports on Wednesday, when broker Investec expects a decline in clothing sales to be offset by a better performance in food.

On the same day, the broker expects electricals market leader Dixons to post a like-for-like Christmas uplift of between 2 and 3 per cent, while next Friday (January 16) health and beauty number one Boots should notch up a 3 to 4 per cent rise.

Mothercare (January 14) and GUS's general merchandise chain Argos (January 15) should both manage a rise in Christmas sales of about 4 per cent like for like.

However, the sector is likely to be characterised by convincing, but by no means sparkling, figures from many big retailers. Clothing groups such as New Look (January 13) and, to a greater extent, Matalan (January 14) are expected to disclose declines in like-for-like sales.

According to Investec, anecdotal evidence suggested Woolworths (January 15) may have experienced similar problems to WHSmith, with stores on Christmas Eve 'quieter than expected.'