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Pandemic pushes H&M into deep loss, recovery outlook unclear

Sweden's H&M, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, reported on Friday a slightly bigger fiscal second-quarter loss than expected as pandemic closures weighed and said local-currency sales so far in June were down 25 per cent.

[STOCKHOLM] H&M, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, swung into a steep loss in its March-May quarter and said its recovery outlook was uncertain, although trade had resumed faster than feared as pandemic lockdowns ease and stores reopen.

The biggest player Inditex, the owner of Zara, made its first loss in February-April. H&M's loss was the first in decades and possibly the first-ever, a spokesman said.

The Swedish group reported a pretax loss of 6.5 billion crowns (S$968.5 million), slightly below market expectations, against a year-ago 5.9 billion profit.

Its shares slipped 2 per cent, taking a year-to-date fall to 25 per cent.

H&M, which warned in April of the loss, gave no third-quarter earnings guidance.

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"It's incredibly uncertain how economies open up," CEO Helena Helmersson told Reuters. "With that, it's tremendously difficult to say how results will be. What's encouraging now is that the sales recovery is picking up in June."

Ms Helmersson said it was particularly hard to predict developments in the United States, H&M's biggest market after Germany.

June sales fell a better-than-expected 25 per cent, against a 50 per cent second-quarter dive. H&M, however, warned of more price cuts in the third quarter to shift unsold spring and summer wear, after markdowns squeezed second-quarter margins.

Ms Helmersson said some, less seasonal surplus garments could probably be sold during autumn. On orders to suppliers for autumn ranges, she said flexibility was essential.

"We will need to be careful not to buy too much a long time in advance. We need to wait as long as we can with purchases - to take the decisions as near the sales moment as possible," she said.

H&M, which has been battling a years-long rise in inventories, slightly reduced stocks in the second quarter.

It should also make savings with a decision to open fewer new stores this year than previously planned, and permanently close more.

Of more than 5,000 stores worldwide, 7 per cent remained temporarily shut against around 80 per cent at the height of lockdowns.


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