Fast Retailing profit soars as Uniqlo global sales flourish

Japan’s Fast Retailing Co said on Thursday that strong overseas sales drove a 25 per cent rise in first quarter operating profit, as the Uniqlo operator charts a third-straight year of record earnings.

Profit was US$1.01 billion in the three months through November compared with $805.159 a year earlier.

The consensus forecast was for $948.193 yen, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by LSEG.

Fast Retailing held its full-year operating profit forecast of $3.094 million, following record earnings of $2.6 million in fiscal 2023.

Among individual regions, Uniqlo’s business in mainland China reported a large increase in revenue and profit in the first quarter, the company said.

The company, founded and run by Japan’s richest man, booked successive record earnings in the past three years as it pressed an aggressive growth strategy overseas.

Business in mainland China, its biggest foreign market, came back to life in fiscal 2023 after more than two years of slowdown caused by stringent zero-Covid policy involving city-wide lockdowns.

While China was in the doldrums, the company made a renewed push in North America, where operating income nearly doubled last year. Fast Retailing plans to open 20 new stores in the United States and Canada in 2024, adding to 72 at the end of December.

Fast Retailing projects another record profit for 2024, but climate change may pose a stumbling block for a company known for its quick rollout of seasonal items such as fleece jackets and thermal wear.

Last year was the hottest on record, and unusually warm conditions from September through December augur for a “sluggish beginning to the fiscal year,” analyst Mark Chadwick wrote in a report on the Smartkarma platform before results were announced.

Fast Retailing said in October it plans to open 80 new stores a year in Greater China which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan. It already has 931 Uniqlo outlets in mainland China – more than in Japan – making it a bellwether for retailers operating in the world’s second-biggest economy.

Shares of Fast Retailing soared 32 per cent in 2023, outpacing a 30 per cent advance in the benchmark Nikkei index.

  • Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, of Reuters.

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