H&M’s sales recover in March as stores reopen after lockdowns

Sales at fashion group H&M fell slightly less than expected in the three months through February and rose in the first half of March as pandemic restrictions were eased in some markets, allowing hundreds of stores to reopen.

The world’s second-biggest apparel retailer said on Monday net sales fell 27 per cent from a year earlier, or 21 per cent when measured in local currencies, to 40.1 billion crowns (US$4.72 billion).

Analysts had on average forecast a 30 per cent decline in net sales for the period – the Swedish group’s fiscal first-quarter – according to Refinitiv SmartEstimate.

“Sales development was significantly affected by the Covid-19 situation, with extensive restrictions and at most over 1,800 stores temporarily closed,” H&M said in a statement.

“Since the beginning of February, a number of markets have gradually allowed stores to reopen and at the end of the quarter around 1,300 stores remained temporarily closed,” it said, adding that online sales had continued to develop very well.

RBC analyst Richard Chamberlain, who has a “sector perform” rating on H&M’s shares, said the figures implied that online sales had provided a stronger-than-expected boost in February.

H&M said sales in the March 1–13 period were up 10 per cent in local currencies as many countries, including single-biggest market Germany, began allowing some stores to reopen. However, about 900 of H&M’s approximately 5,000 stores remained closed due to pandemic lockdowns as of March 13.

Chamberlain said most stores should be open by mid-April bar new lockdowns in Europe, H&M’s main market.

“As such, we see the potential for a strong sales recovery in the remainder of the year, with potential for gross margin to surprise on the upside, due to the weaker US dollar,” he said.

Market leader Inditex, the owner of Zara, last week forecast a return to healthy sales as soon as lockdown is lifted, as it reported a 70 per cent fall in profit for its fiscal year through January. It predicted all its shops would be open by mid-April.

H&M, whose full December-February earnings report is due on March 31, is bracing for a loss in the quarter after the pandemic slashed 2020 profits by 88 per cent.

Shares in H&M were up 3 per cent in early trading, taking a year-to-date rise to 32 per cent.

  • Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Niklas Pollard, Kirsten Donovan, of Reuters.

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