Woolworths expects to report it returned to profit with basic earnings per share (EPS) of about R1.98 for the first half of its 2019 financial year — a recovery from its loss of R5.06 per share in the matching period.

The retailer is scheduled to release its results for the 26 weeks to December 23 on February 21.

Sales growth figures released in a trading update on Thursday morning were put in a slightly unflattering light because the comparative period included Christmas Eve.  

The group’s overall sales grew 1.9%, with its food division’s 6.3% sales growth offsetting a 2% sales decline in its clothes division.

What Woolworths calls fashion, beauty and home improved sales in the second quarter from “a significantly smaller winter clearance sale” in the first quarter.

Australian department store David Jones, whose impairment dragged Woolworths into a loss in its 2018 financial year, grew sales 1% in the first half of the 2019 financial year.

David Jones’s online sales have grown by 46.1%, and now contribute 7.7% of its total sales, the trading update said.

Woolworths’s other Australian chain, Country Road, grew sales by 2.3%. Its online sales grew by 20% over the period, representing 17.7% of its sales.

The group expects its interim headline earnings per share (HEPS) to show a decline of up to 5%.