By LOUISE NORDSTROM, Associated Press
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish fashion retailer Hennes and Mauritz announced Thursday plans to ramp up its expansion in the coming months, even though problems associated with Europe's debt crisis and a heat wave in a number of its key markets capped earnings in the third quarter.
The Stockholm-headquartered group posted a net profit of 3.6 billion kronor ($549 million) in the three months between June and August, up just under 1 percent from 3.59 billion kronor in the year-ago period. Revenues rose to 33.57 billion kronor from 31.51 billion kronor.
The group — the world's second-largest clothing retailer in terms of sales after Spain's Inditex, the owner of Massimo Dutti and Zara — said its performance was dented by economic difficulties in many European countries, a late-summer heat wave in much of Europe as well as currency fluctuations. However, some relief was provided by cheaper cotton prices.
"Conditions for the fashion retail industry continued to be challenging in many markets in the third quarter — both as regards the weather and the macroeconomic climate, with austerity measures and restrained consumption," CEO Karl-Johan Persson said, adding that lower than expected sales could "primarily" be blamed on the heat wave.
The company's share price dropped 5.3 percent to 236.50 kronor in early trading on the Stockholm stock exchange.
Even so, the group said it continues to grab market share and revealed plans to open 300 new stores this year, up from a previously forecast 275.
But H&M has delayed the launch of its online shop in the United States to the middle of 2013 instead of the second half of this year. The company said it simply needs more time to prepare that offering.
It also said it plans to launch a new fashion brand, & Other Stories, in the first half of next year, which will be located in separate stores. The clothes will focus more on quality and will be higher priced than its normal fashion lines.
Daniel Ovin, an analyst at CAI Cheuvreux Nordic in Stockholm, said H&M's third quarter performance was a "disappointment," especially with regard to the fall in the company's gross margin to 58.2 percent from 58.6 percent.
"I would have thought that the lower cotton prices would have helped there," he said.
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