* Says furniture sales "a good micro indicator"
* "Extremely confident" on Christmas prospects
* Opens 150 mln stg national distribution centres
(Recasts with MD comments on Brexit, trading)
By James Davey
MILTON KEYNES, England, Sept 6 Sales of "big
ticket" items such as furniture have held up since Britain's
vote to leave the European Union, indicating a relatively robust
consumer economy, the head of its biggest department store group
John Lewis said on Tuesday.
Though Britain's shock Brexit vote in June stunned financial
markets, they have since recovered and UK consumers, who drove
the country's recovery from the financial crisis, appear to have
largely taken the referendum result in their stride for now,
according to several surveys and indicators.
"The thing that has not happened that could have happened is
a real fall off in big ticket purchases," John Lewis Managing
Director Andy Street told reporters during a tour of the firm's
new distribution facilities in central England.
"If you look at furniture numbers and compare them with 2008
for example, when they just fell through the floor, we're still
growing trade there nicely. That's a good micro indicator that
says there is relative robustness."
John Lewis' total sales have increased 0.6 percent
year-on-year in the five weeks to Sept. 3.
In July, Street cautioned that sterling's depreciation
against the U.S. dollar and euro following the Brexit vote could
become a major issue for the firm next year.
However, he is optimistic about John Lewis' Christmas
trading prospects, pointing to product innovation and its
investment in distribution
"We're feeling extremely confident," he said. "We've had
seven years of beating the market at Christmas. We fully expect
this to be the eighth."
John Lewis opened two new national distribution centres on
Tuesday at a cost of 150 million pounds ($200 million), enabling
faster restocking of stores and deliveries to customers.
The Magna Park 2 and 3 centres in Milton Keynes form part of
John Lewis' 500 million pound, five-year investment in its
online systems and distribution network.
This follows the employee-owned retailer's 100 million pound
investment in its existing Magna Park site, which opened in
John Lewis said the new centres reflected its anticipation
of changing shopping habits, with the percentage of orders being
delivered moving from 4 percent to 47 percent in a decade.
It said the new sites had created 500 jobs, a figure that
will double at peak times.
The sites will consolidate online orders for fashion and
non-fashion items into one parcel for delivery. That means
850,000 fewer parcels will be delivered each year and 190,000
fewer miles will be covered by delivery vehicles.
John Lewis's 46 UK stores will now receive daily
replenishment deliveries as well as Click & Collect orders.
Street, MD since 2007, declined to comment when asked about
media reports that he is to apply to become Conservative Party
candidate to be the West Midlands' first-ever elected mayor.
($1 = 0.7517 pounds)
(Editing by Alexander Smith)