Tough high street trading has pushed down half-year profits at Alexon Group Plc, the clothing retailer said today.

The group, which owns the Bay Trading and Dolcis store chains, said pretax profits decreased to £7.8 million in the first half from £11.0 million a year earlier.

In the six months to July 30 sales were flat at £197.7 million. On a like-for-like basis, however, sales were down 1 per cent.

Like-for-like sales growth at Alexon Brands was 2.8 per cent, but operating profit for the half fell to £9.2 million from £10.1 million in the prior year. The division was hit by the loss of 73 Allders concessions.

Footwear chain Dolcis posted an operating loss of £0.9 million, compared with a profit of £0.8 million in the same period last year. Like-for-like sales were down 9 per cent on reduced demand for shoes as a fashion item and increased competition from garment retailers strengthening their shoe offer.

Men's wear recorded an operating loss of £1.5 million against a loss of £0.3 million last year. Like-for-like sales were down 6 per cent.

The Bay Trading division benefited from a number of strong trends in the younger fashion market, and increased its operating profit to £1 million from £0.4 million.

Despite the fall in profits the interim dividend was raised to 3.0 pence a share from 2.83 pence.

"We believe that our diversified portfolio of brands will stand us in good stead in the difficult retail environment which currently prevails," said chief executive John Osborn.