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   04.05.2012 9:59           Next chief Lord Wolfson sells £3.8m-worth of shares to pay for wedding and new house

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, however, looks to be planning for a slightly more lavish affair than the average groom-to-be. The chief executive of Next, the high street retailer, let slip that the main reason he has just sold £3.8m-worth of shares was because of his wedding, which takes place next month.

“I sold pretty much straight after our [annual] results, so when the market had the maximum amount of information, I only sold 7pc of my holding, and I’m just about to get married, so I’m looking to move house,” he said.

He is due to marry Eleanor Shawcross, an advisor to George Osborne and the daughter of the author William Shawcross, towards the end of June in central London. He was coy about his plans for the big day, though it is understood to be taking place at a historic building. He owns a house in Bedfordshire but is thought to be now looking for a family home in London.

His comments about the share sale came as Next published trading figures that made clear the wettest April on record has hit clothes retailers hard, leaving them with unsold summer fashions.

“Pretty much sales went up and down with the temperature gauge,” the chief executive said.

The company said total sales increased 1.4pc in the 13 weeks to April 28. This compared with a growth rate of 3.1pc in the final four months of last year. The company pointed out that it was up against strong comparisons with last year, which was boosted by good weather and the Royal Wedding bank holiday. Retail sales fell 3.9pc, though these were boosted by new shops. Analysts reckon like-for-like sales, which the company never publishes, have fallen by about 8pc. Meanwhile, sales at its Directory – the online and catalogue business – were up 11.8pc.

“It was a good March and a bad April. A couple of weeks in March were up double-digits and there were three weeks in April that were down by double-digits.”

He said that it was nearly all down to the rain. “Underlying economics do not push your figures up and down like that.”

However, he said the volatile trading would not affect profits: “We budgeted very conservatively for the first quarter.”

Analysts gave a cautious welcome to the figures but warned that other retailers were likely to be feeling the pressure. Clive Black at Shore Capital said: “Next’s update underscores the challenging nature of the high street and is consistent with falling real incomes in the UK and weak consumer confidence.”

Lord Wolfson said he was no more pessimistic about the economy than at the start of the year, and the fact that the UK was in a double-dip recession would not affect consumer confidence.

“No one is going to say, 'we’re in a technical recession, I won’t buy that jumper’. The high-end economic news doesn’t affect consumer sentiment.”

He added that he was pleasantly surprised employment was holding up.

Lord Wolfson still owns about £45m-worth of Next shares, which closed up 83p at £29.79.



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