Associated British Foods today forecast first half results ahead of its expectations at the start of the year, driven by the performance of its Primark discount fashion chain.

The company said today that adjusted operating profit for the half to March 2 will be higher than the previous year, with earnings per share "substantially ahead".

AB Foods said Primark's first half sales were expected to be 23% ahead of the same time last year, with sales at stores open over a year up 7%.

Primark trades as Penney's here.

The group said Primark's profit margin was also much higher, reflecting the benefit of lower cotton prices and better trading.

"Our expectation for the full year is unchanged and earnings growth for the full year will therefore be heavily weighted towards the first half," added the group. It also noted stabilisation in the performance of its sugar, grocery and ingredients businesses.