DEBENHAMS saw its half-year profits plunge nearly 85 per cent after extreme weather brought in by the Beast from the East gouged earnings.

The retailer said its bottom-line pre-tax profits fell from £87.8 million to just £13.5 million over the 26 weeks to March 3, having taken a major hit during the final days of the trading period when bad weather forced Debenhams to temporarily close around 100 stores.

On an underlying basis - having been stripped of £28.7 million in exceptional costs linked to its strategic review and restructuring - pre-tax profits slumped 51.9% to £42.2 million.

That was below analysts' forecasts, which had placed pre-tax profits at around £44 million.

Debenhams also blamed a "disappointing Christmas season" for increasing competitor discounting and ultimately hitting underlying earnings for the UK, which fell 39.3% over the half-year.

Like-for-like sales, meanwhile, dropped 2.2%, with the retailer citing a "challenging UK market background".

Difficult trading over Christmas prompted a profit warning by the retailer back in January, sending shares down 20%.

It is now forecasting full-year pre-tax profits at the lower end of the current range of forecasts of between £50 million to £61 million.

Chief executive Sergio Bucher said: "It has not been an easy first half and the extreme weather in the final week of the half had a material impact on our results.

"But I am hugely encouraged by the progress we are making to transform Debenhams for our customers."

He added: "We are holding share in a difficult fashion market, and, in other categories such as furniture, exciting new partnerships have the potential to transform our offer.

"We approach the remainder of the year mindful of the very challenging market conditions, but with confidence that we have a strong team and the right plan to navigate them and return Debenhams to profitable growth."

The retailer has closed two stores since October in a bid to reduce costs associated with rent and business rates, and has identified a further 10 across the country that could be shut down in due course.

However, the company is tied into long-term leases in many of its stores, meaning it must shed staff to save on costs.

In February, 320 staff were made redundant in a shake-up of middle-management.

* Embattled department store House of Fraser has appointed KPMG to advise on a restructuring plan for the business which could involve store closures and job losses.

The retailer, which has a Rackhams store in Skipton and is owned by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower, has drafted in advisers to look at a range of options, one of which could be an insolvency procedure known as a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA).

Several retailers have pursued CVAs to save on costs this year. The procedure would involve House of Fraser seeking agreement from landlords to cut rents and possibly shutting some of its 59 stores.