UK high-street chain Next Plc has reported its biggest fall in underlying sales since 1998, attributing the poor figures to unfavourable interest rates.

Underlying sales at the company's 273 stores not affected by new retail locations dropped 3.2 per cent during the first 15 weeks of 2005.

Sales at the 337 stores affected by new openings fell 6.3 per cent,

Within Next Directory, however, Mail-order sales during the period rose 8.1 per cent while total sales of Next's namesake brand increased 6.6 per cent.