UK retailer Littlewoods is predicting a brighter future after announcing that sales in the first nineteen weeks of the 2000/01 financial year were 2 per cent down on last year.

The store, which revealed earlier this month that it was cutting prices and shedding 250 jobs, has forecast that figures for the second half of the year will improve.

James Ross, chairman of Littlewoods, told yesterday's annual general meeting that trading profits in the first half of 2000/01 will be below those achieved last year.

But he added that with the benefits of a more competitively priced product and higher stock availability, it is anticipated that the situation will improve in the second half of the year.

In a statement released after yesterday's meeting, Mr Ross said: "Our shareholders noted the very difficult market conditions in which Littlewoods Plc is trading. They reaffirmed their strong support for the Board and management in the execution of the business strategy and the programme of change."

Shareholders were told that during the first nineteen weeks of the 2000/01 financial year, high street sales increased by 3 per cent.

Sales per customer in home shopping were ahead by 2 per cent but lower customer numbers as a result of a more focused recruitment policy meant that overall home shopping sales were 5 per cent below last year.

Shareholders approved a change of the company's name from The Littlewoods Organisation Plc to Littlewoods Plc at the AGM.

Littlewoods recently announced that it was repositioning itself as a "better value" retailer, offering a `value' range to compete with the likes of Matalan and Bhs.

It also revealed at the same time that it was investing £300 million over the next three years in infrastructure improvements, including the refurbishment of its chain of 120-plus stores and upgrading its call centres.

But it said the changes would involve saving £30m over the next 18 months, through job losses at head office and improved processes.

Deborah Bowyer