Mike Ashley's British sportswear group Frasers has today reported a 25% rise in first-half core earnings and raised the lower end of its annual forecast following strong online sales and the reopening of stores at the start of December. 

Frasers closed stores during lockdowns across Europe.

But it said its online business "remains resilient," benefiting from increased demand for casual sports clothing as many people work from home because of the pandemic. 

The group, formerly named after its flagship Sports Direct brand, raised the bottom end of its annual core profit forecast by 10%, expecting growth of between 20% to 30%, up from 10% to 30% predicted earlier. 

Frasers, in a separate statement today, said it continued to build its relationships with its main suppliers, including Nike for Sports Direct, Burberry for Flannels, and Hugo Boss for House of Fraser. 

Analysts had said that low Nike stock in certain Sports Direct stores could mean its shoppers face a non-Nike Christmas. 

"The lack of key product could persist and leave Frasers' cash cow, the core Sports Directs, compromised," Peel Hunt analysts had said in a note earlier this week. 

Buying other businesses and strategic stakes forms part of Ashley's long-stated desire to make Frasers the "Selfridges of sport". 

This year Frasers purchased stakes in luxury brand Mulberry and German fashion house Hugo Boss. 

Frasers said on Monday it was in talks to buy collapsed department store Debenhams from administrators. 

It was also interested in participating in the sale process of Philip Green's collapsed Arcadia Group. 

For the six months to October 25, the company made underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £226.3m, compared with £181.2m a year earlier.