April 4, 2019 / 6:56 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Mothercare UK sales slide slows in Q4, still challenged

(Adds details of previous LFL sales, background, CEO quote, graphic)

April 4 (Reuters) - The pace of falls in like-for-like store sales at baby products retailer Mothercare Plc eased slightly in the final quarter of its 2019 fiscal year, but the company said British and international market conditions remained challenging.

UK like-for-like sales fell 8.8 percent in the 12 weeks to March 30 and were down 10.8 percent for the full-year, the company said. That compared with declines of more than 11 percent for the third quarter and the first half year.

Excluding the impact of currency fluctuations international retail sales fell 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter, compared to a 1.1 percent fall in the third quarter.

Mothercare’s main UK business has been losing money for more than a decade as its traditional place on the UK high street collapses in the face of a new generation of online players, forcing the company to unveil a survival plan in July that closed over a third of its UK stores.

“The UK store closure programme has been completed ahead of schedule and we now have 80 stores in operation, down from 137 stores a year ago,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Newton-Jones said in a trading update on Thursday.

He said “disruptions” from its cost-saving initiatives are now largely behind it, that it has cleared a lot of unsold stock and is on track to deliver on previous expectations for the full year.

Mothercare’s combined credit score, which measures on a scale of 100 to 1 how likely a company is to default on its debts in the next year, was “1” as of Thursday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, indicating it was expected to default.

The company had in March said it was aiming to be debt free by the end of this year, with proceeds from the sale of its educational toy brand ELC, helping it alleviate some of that. Interactive graphic on Mothercare's operations - tmsnrt.rs/2HYy3ap

($1 = 0.7592 pounds)

Reporting by Sangameswaran S and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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