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Sun-worshipping men blamed as shop profits fall.

Shares in department store group Beale fell by as much as 21 per cent yesterday after the company said that profits were suffering as customers, men in particular, stayed away from its shops to enjoy the hot weather.

Finance director Ken Owst said: 'Most men don't want to go shopping in any case. But when it's hot they certainly don't want to, and they're happy to settle for a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.'

Beale, which runs 12 shops across Britain targeting people over 35, said likefor-like sales fell by eight per cent in the seven weeks to the end of July, despite some price reductions. 'These increased mark-downs combined with the sales deficit have resulted in the achieved gross profit being significantly below expectations,' the firm said in a trading update.

Beale's shares were down 5.3 per cent at 80 1 /2p early yesterday, valuing the business at about pounds 16.5 million pounds after earlier falling to a 2003 low of 67 1 /2 p.

Some analysts linked the recovery to speculation of a bid from investment firm Lawdene, which owns 26 per cent of Beale and is controlled by entrepreneur David Thompson, whose family run the privately owned department store group Hoopers.

'They've got to do something to try to improve profitability, and putting two groups together to reduce overheads is one way,' said Seymour Pierce analyst Rhys Williams.

Mr Owst said Beale had not received any takeover approaches but noted its stock market price was well below the estimated value of its property assets.

Lawdene was not immediately available for comment.

Department stores such as Debenhams, Selfridges and House of Fraser have attracted a flurry of bid interest as financiers take advantage of cheap borrowing costs to buy firms rich in property assets that generate a lot of cash.

Mr Williams has cut his 2003 profit forecast for Beale down to pounds 1.2 million pounds from pounds 2.3 million, and warned that other small department store groups like Merchant Retail and James Beattie, which has stores throughout the West Midlands region, might also be feeling the pain.

Beale said like-for-like sales were likely to remain below 2002 levels for the rest of the year but should pick up as cooler weather attracts customers to autumn and winter ranges.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 21, 2003
Words:386
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