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Fast Retailing annual profit likely halved, seen recovering fast

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Fast Retailing Co Ltd's Uniqlo signboard is pictured at its shop in Tokyo, Japan January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - After a bump in August sales at its Uniqlo stores in Japan, Fast Retailing 9983.T investors will look to the company's financial update on Thursday for signs that the recovery will last beyond a flurry of sales in masks and stay-at-home clothes.

The Japanese apparel group which owns Asia’s biggest fashion brand, Uniqlo, is seeking to draw a line under a weak fiscal year ended August. Analysts predict operating profit nearly halved over this period to 137 billion yen (1 billion pounds), according to Refinitiv data.

Profit is expected to rebound around 70% in the next fiscal year, as people in Japan and China, the company’s two main markets, resume shopping.

Uniqlo’s domestic same-store sales jumped 10% in August from a year earlier, thanks to its re-usable “Airism” masks and what Fast Retailing touts as “products designed to fulfill recent stay-at-home needs”: baggy pants.

Uniqlo has weathered the pandemic better than most global retailers. Lockdowns and general wariness over spending has forced storied U.S. brands such as J. Crew as well as Japanese apparel makers including Renown into bankruptcy.

The brand’s emphasis on practical, daily essentials and quality-for-money proposition has positioned it well, helping it avoid major inventory mark-downs, with some spring items like light coats carrying over into the fall season without discounts.

Analysts say a full recovery will rely not only on the pandemic coming under control but also on Uniqlo’s ability to offer more than its cost-effective casual wear. Some are hopeful a resurrected partnership with minimalist fashion designer Jil Sander can do just that.

On Thursday, investors will also be tuning into Chief Executive Tadashi Yanai’s comments on the company’s long-term prospects, including an uncertain succession plan and its struggle to break into the U.S. market.

Fast Retailing shares last traded at around 69,520 yen, up over 70% from March lows when the company was hit by supply chain disruptions and store shutdowns in China.

Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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