New research suggests that the number of UK retailers issuing profits warnings has quadrupled during the past three months - the highest number since 1998.

According to a survey carried out by Ernst & Young, 12 retail groups had issued profits warnings during the first three months of the year, compared with just three during the last quarter of 2002.

It added that this came despite the overall number of warnings falling by 24% from 106 to 81.

The group blames the rise on tough trading conditions over the Christmas period, and the continuing fragile state of consumer confidence.