By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) - Primark owner Associated British Foods raised its estimate of lost sales due to COVID-19 lockdowns this autumn to 430 million pounds ($579 million) but said it was hopeful of making up some of the shortfall with "phenomenal" pre-Christmas trading.
The group, which had previously forecast a 375 million pound sales hit from forced store closures, said on Friday it still expects fashion chain Primark's full year 2020/21 sales and profit to be higher than the previous year's.
Primark, which does not have an online offer, made a profit of 362 million pounds in its 2019/20 financial year which ended on Sept. 12.
Trading at stores in its major markets of Ireland, England, France and Belgium which reopened in the last week has been "phenomenal", said AB Foods' finance chief John Bason.
"It's very clear that our trading before the lockdown and now our trading these first few days after lockdown (is) way higher than we had previously expected," he told Reuters.
"So I think it will erode that (430 million pounds) number when we finally come to report it," he said.
Bason noted that stores in Ireland broke their daily sales records on two days running.
"I think we'll have a strong run-up to Christmas," he added.
Shares in the group, majority owned by the family of CEO George Weston, were up 2.6% at 0948 GMT, paring 2020 losses to 9.1%.
Across its markets, 34 stores remain temporarily closed, including all stores in Northern Ireland and Austria, representing 7% of total selling space.
Since September Primark has opened two new stores in the United States, in New Jersey and Florida.
It now trades in 11 stores in the United States and is accelerating its opening programme.
AB Foods said all orders Primark has placed with suppliers have been honoured.
The group also has a grocery division, whose brands include Kingsmill bread, Twinings tea, the Ovaltine drink and Jordans cereal, as well as major sugar, agriculture and ingredients businesses.
It said trading in all these businesses has been ahead of both expectations and last year.
AB Foods said it has completed all practical preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31 and contingency plans were in place should its businesses experience disruption.
($1 = 0.7431 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and Susan Fenton)