Jan 9, 2009
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Japan's Fast Retailing lifts outlook as sales boom

Jan 9, 2009

Fast Retailing Uniqlo fall-winter 2008/2009

*Q1 profit up 46 pct, annual outlook raised 6.5 pct

*Same-store sales at Uniqlo casual clothing chain up 17.7 pct

*One of few retailers to thrive amid economic slump (Recasts, adds details)

By Taiga Uranaka

TOKYO, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Japan's Fast Retailing Co (9983.T) booked a 46 percent gain in first-quarter profit and lifted its annual forecast, bucking an industry downturn as cost-conscious consumers sought out its Uniqlo casual clothing chain.

Many Japanese retailers have cut their earnings outlooks amid the global economic downturn, as consumers rein in spending on clothing and other non-grocery items.

Aeon Co Ltd (8267.T), Japan's second-largest retailer, this week warned it may post its first annual net loss in seven years, hit by flagging sales, a writedown at U.S. unit Talbots (TLB.N) and accounting changes.

But Fast Retailing, which has about 760 Uniqlo stores in Japan as well as over 50 overseas including in the United Kingdom, China and South Korea, has successfully attracted cost-conscious consumers with its basic and cheap apparel lines.

Same-store sales at its Uniqlo stores in Japan rose 17.7 percent during its first quarter, moving at a much stronger pace than the modest 1.4 percent growth for the year to August forecast by the firm.

Operating profit for the three months ended in November rose to 40.9 billion yen ($448.3 million), from 28.1 billion yen a year earlier.

Some of its offerings were highly popular. The chain prepared 28 million items of its "Heattech" line of heat-trapping shirts for this winter, up 40 percent from a year earlier, but it had to issue apologies on fliers and its website last month as stocks at many stores ran low.

For the year ending in August, the company lifted its outlook 6.5 percent to 99 billion yen from 93 billion yen.

That compares with an average forecast of 100.3 billion yen in a poll of 14 analysts by Reuters Estimates.

Shares of Fast Retailing rose 57 percent for the year to Thursday, outperforming by far a 39 percent fall in the benchmark Nikkei average .N225. (Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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