U.K. retail giant Woolworths Group has posted a loss of £99.7 million ($178.04 million) for the six months to Aug. 2.

The interim results today (Sept. 17) show that losses have widened from the £63.8 million ($113.95 million) pre-tax loss for the first half of 2007, prompting Woolworths to suspend its dividend payment.

Woolworths, which sells products ranging from sweets to DVDs and CDs, saw like-for-like retail sales down 3.2% to £660.7 million ($1.18 billion) compared to a year ago.

The group said its other businesses - EUK, which distributes CDs, DVDs, computer games and books, and 2 entertain, its DVD publishing joint venture with BBC Worldwide - are performing better than the retail division. First half sales at 2 entertain are up 13.2%, while total sales at EUK increased by 0.3% for the same period. Overall, group revenues declined 3% to £1.107 billion ($1.978 billion).

"For the first half of the year EUK and 2 entertain are performing ahead of our expectations, while Woolworths Retail manifestly is not," said group chairman Richard North in a statement. "However, the Board believes that the strength of our entertainment businesses provides a solid platform of profitability from which the turnaround of the retail business can be based.

Newly appointed chief executive Steve Johnson is carrying out a strategic review of the retail division.

"Right now, this business does not require lots of new strategic initiatives, it requires a good dose of basic shop keeping and attention to the detail of retailing," added Johnson in a statement. "Everyone in Woolworths is clear that our first priority - in all parts of the Group - is delivering a successful Christmas for our customers."

Woolworths traditionally performs better in the second half of the year because of increased sales at Christmas. The group said like-for-like sales for the first six weeks of the second half of 2008 are up 0.4%.

North said he is open to talks with third parties on the future of the group's 815-store retail operation, but he added that the business is not up for sale. Last month Woolworths rejected and indicative offer of £50 million ($89.35 million) for the retail business from a consortium headed by Malcolm Walker, boss of the Iceland supermarket chain.

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