With a move away from share buy-backs, retailer’s chief executive is saying he does not know how bad things will turn out

Lord Wolfson’s default setting is caution. So, as shopkeepers across the land await the coming squeeze on consumers’ incomes, it is not a surprise to hear the chief executive of Next drifting closer to outright gloom.

The slowdown in spending on clothing and footwear, which he says started in November 2015, will continue this year. Next’s post-Christmas sale was a flop. Inflation is arriving and a weaker pound means prices will have to rise by up to 5%. Then there are cost pressures from the “national living wage”, business rates, the apprenticeship levy, etc. In short, conditions look rough. Next’s profits could fall anywhere between 2% and 14% in the next financial year, after a predicted decline of 3.6% in the current period.

Related: Next shares slump after gloomy 2017 forecast and unfestive figures

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