File picture: Leon Nicholas, Independent Media

Johannesburg - Edcon Holdings, South Africa’s largest clothing retailer, said its annual loss narrowed as sales at the discount division gained.

The loss was 2.5 billion rand in the 12 months through March, compared with 5 billion rand a year earlier, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement today.

Retail sales advanced 5.1 percent to 27 billion rand, while revenue at the discount division, which includes the Jet chain, rose 7.4 percent.

Revenue growth was “based on a sound performance by the discount division and despite the significantly disruptive store construction changes in the Edgars division,” Edcon said.

The company has been completing a renovation program at those outlets.

Edgars retail sales slowed to 2.7 percent from 4.1 percent a year earlier, while the division’s gross margin narrowed to 38.6 percent from 39.7 percent as it increased promotional activity to offset lower credit sales.

High unemployment and inflation that has breached the central bank’s 6 percent target has hurt South African retail sales growth, which slowed to 1 percent in March from 2.3 percent the previous month.

Bain Capital, based in Boston, bought Edcon for 25 billion rand in May 2007.

Edcon, which owns chains including CNA, Boardmans and Red Square, had 1,403 outlets at the end of the reporting period, with the average retail space rising 5.2 percent. - Bloomberg News