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UPDATE 1-H&M monthly sales growth lags expectations
December 15, 2016 / 8:34 AM / in 10 months

UPDATE 1-H&M monthly sales growth lags expectations

* Nov local-currency sales rise 9 percent, below consensus

* Shares trade 3.8 percent lower

* H&M struggling to keep pace with Zara-owner Inditex (Adds detail, background, analyst comment, share)

By Anna Ringstrom

STOCKHOLM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - H&M, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, reported sales growth in November roughly in line with the previous month, missing analysts’ expectations for an acceleration on the back of demand for winter clothes.

The news cast further doubt on the extent of a recovery flagged by the Swedish budget apparel firm after years of tightening margins and several quarters of declining profit.

H&M and some rivals have been underperforming market leader Inditex, partly because the owner of the Zara stores has a supply chain that enables it to react more quickly to shifts in demand, making it less exposed to variations on weather.

H&M’s local-currency turnover in November was up 9 percent from a year earlier, against a mean forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts for a 15 percent rise.

Inditex, meanwhile, said on Wednesday its sales growth was 16 percent in November and the first half of December.

H&M’s shares traded 3.8 percent lower at 0815 GMT, taking a year-to-date fall to around 14 pct against a year-to-date 1 percent rise for Inditex and a 7 percent drop for the STOXX Europe 600 Retail Index.

H&M has in the past year blamed sales misses on unseasonable weather, such as in September when growth stalled at a mere 1 percent after a warm start to autumn in Europe. In October, growth picked up to 10 percent.

Some analysts are however increasingly concerned that H&M is facing more fundamental structural issues such as tougher competition and the need to speed up its supply chain.

“In November, clothing markets across western and northern Europe should have been supportive, benefiting from colder weather year on year,” SocGen analyst Anne Critchlow said.

“It remains to be seen whether H&M can accelerate sales in the first month of its new fiscal year, December, or whether slow sales trends will lead to increased mark-downs once again in the first quarter, to end February,” she added. SocGen has a “Sell” rating on the stock.

H&M said sales in September through November, its fiscal fourth quarter, totalled 52.7 billion crowns ($5.7 billion), up from a year-ago 48.7 billion but below a forecast 53.5 billion.

H&M, which is due to publish its full quarterly earnings report on Jan. 31, did not comment on the sales figures. ($1 = 9.2906 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Keith Weir)

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