The boss of high street giant Next warned that Brexit uncertainty would add to an “even tougher” year ahead as the chain sounded the alarm over sales and profits after a difficult Christmas.
Next shares tumbled 10% in a dismal start to the festive reporting season after it said annual profits to January 2017 were set to fall by around 3.6% and could plunge by as much as 14% in the next financial year.
The group said it was facing “exceptional levels of uncertainty” amid a consumer spending squeeze, soaring costs from the weak pound and “little visibility of the approach the UK Government will be taking to Brexit”.
Chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson - a prominent Leave campaigner - told the Press Association that while the Government was right not to be rushed into a Brexit plan, fears over the negotiations would heap further pressure on an embattled retail sector.
“It will take time for them and we have to be patient, but there will be uncertainty in the meantime,” he said.
Shares fell across the retail sector as Next sparked worries of a dire Christmas and 2017 for fashion firms, with Marks & Spencer down nearly 5% and Primark parent Associated British Foods 4% lower.
Next - seen as a retail bellwether - reported a 0.4% fall in overall full-price sales for the 54 days to December 24, while it also posted a 7% plunge in end-of-season clearance sales.
Next said it suffered a 3.5% fall in full-price sales across its high street stores in the quarter so far to Christmas Eve.
It saw a better performance across its Directory catalogue arm, with sales up 5.1%, but this was not enough to offset the fall across its store estate.
The group had been hoping for a fourth-quarter turnaround after a difficult 2016.