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Mike Ashley's Frasers bucks UK retail gloom with growth forecast

LONDON (Reuters) - Mike Ashley's Frasers Group FRAS.L, formerly Sports Direct, brought some cheer to Britain's battered retail sector, reporting a 5% rise in 2019-20 core earnings and forecasting growth of up to 30% in its current year despite COVID-19.

FILE PHOTO: A shopper wearing a protective face mask walks past a branch of Sports Direct in Oxford Street, London, Britain, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain’s stores sector has been hit hard by the pandemic with many companies slashing jobs, but the sporting goods retailer and owner of other brands including House of Fraser said its business was strong and it was well placed for the future.

The group’s UK stores were closed in the March 23 to June 14 lockdown period, while its European stores were also subject to restrictions. However, it was able to continue trading online.

It said on Thursday it had successfully reopened its stores after the lockdown and was seeing a continuing strong online performance.

Shares in Frasers were up 12% at 0747 GMT, having risen 8% on Wednesday - paring their 2020 losses to 25%. Ashley owns about 64% of the equity.

“We continue to expect Frasers to be a long-term winner and believe that the elevation strategy and the benefits to flow from its M&A activities are not fully appreciated,” said analysts at Liberum, referring to its move upmarket.

Frasers said it intends to invest more than 100 million pounds ($131 million) in its online activities, with a focus on its Flannels designer fashion business and a better customer experience.

For the year to April 26, Frasers made core earnings - or underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) - of 302.1 million pounds, up from 287.8 million in 2018-29. It forecast growth of between 10% and 30% in 2020-21.

Group revenue rose 6.9% to 3.96 billion pounds, helped by the acquisition of GAME, Jack Wills and Sofa.com, while net debt fell to 366 million pounds.

Ashley’s long-stated desire is to make Frasers the “Selfridges of sport”, emulating the status of the London department store.

Buying other businesses and strategic stakes forms part of that plan. This year Frasers has purchased stakes in luxury brand Mulberry MUL.L and German fashion house Hugo Boss BOSSn.DE.

($1 = 0.7648 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and David Holmes

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