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JOHANNESBURG - South African-based international retailer Woolworths said on Thursday its group sales were up 2.5 percent to R38.8 billion in the 26 weeks to December compared with the same period the previous year.

Headline earnings per share decreased by 15 percent to 206.3 cents but the group still declared an interim gross cash dividend per ordinary share of 108.5 cents, albeit a 18.4 percent decrease on the prior period’s 133.0 cents per share.

Woolworths said trading conditions in South Africa were expected to remain challenging in the second half of the financial year to 2018, but should then improve, as the impact of a new political leadership resonated through the economy and consumer sentiment.

"We are confident that our food business will continue to grow ahead of the market, and that recent changes made to design and buying structures in fashion, beauty and home are expected to improve the womenswear offering," it said.

In Australia, growth and consumer sentiment was also expected to improve slowly on the back of improving economic indicators, including a strengthening labour market, although high levels of promotional activity would continue. 

Woolworths said it would underpin this with a cost and efficiency review, as it further consolidated its Australian operations.

"The board remains committed to the ongoing transformation of David Jones, and will continue to invest in the future of the business," it added.

- African News Agency (ANA)