Britain's John Lewis Partnership lifted its annual profit forecast, saying trading held up better than it expected during the Christmas period, indicating the strength of its Waitrose supermarket chain and online offering during lockdowns.
The employee-owned department stores and supermarket group said on Friday it now expected its profits to be ahead of guidance provided in September when it forecast a small loss or a small profit for the 2020/21 period.
Its upgrade came despite lockdowns in November and various restrictions in December, which impacted John Lewis department stores.
But sales for supermarkets like Waitrose and it's bigger competitors Tesco and Sainsbury's were strong, according to industry data and trading updates, and clothes retailers with attractive online offerings, such as Next, were resilient.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered Britain's retail sector, with many shops now closed for good and thousands of jobs lost.
John Lewis has not been immune, it sunk to a first-half loss of £635 million in September.
But its chairman Sharon White, who joined last year, has a five-year plan to grow the group by making the two parts of the business work more closely together and a bigger shift to online.
John Lewis also said in its statement on Friday that it would repay a COVID-19 loan of £300 million ($410 million) to the government two months early.
"Despite the head winds of the last year when John Lewis stores were closed for several months, and future trading volatility, the Partnership believes it has sufficient liquidity going forward," the group said.
John Lewis will publish its annual results on 11 March.