Wednesday morning business bulletin

Harry Potter helps Amazon to healthy results; Argos owner beats forecasts; FTSE 100 Index on the back foot.

The final Harry Potter novel and music from Amy Winehouse were UK best-sellers for online shopping giant Amazon as the company posted healthy sales today.

Demand for Winehouse’s Back to Black album and the last in the series of the boy wizard’s adventures, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, helped Amazon’s international operation boost third-quarter sales by 40% to £718.7m.

Heavy discounting meant Amazon did not make a profit on the Harry Potter book, but UK managing director Brian McBride said the company benefited from the "halo effect" as shoppers also spent cash on other items.

Soaring profits at retailer Argos helped parent Home Retail Group to deliver better than expected results today.

Strong sales of flat panel TVs, games consoles and mobile phones saw Argos lift operating profits by 50% to £99.5m in the half-year to September 1, with like-for-like sales ahead 1.4%.

The performance boosted Home Retail Group’s pro-forma pre-tax profits by 40% to £149.8m, beating analysts’ consensus forecasts.

Chief executive Terry Duddy described the Argos performance as a "particularly good result", but said the group remained cautious over the consumer outlook following recent interest rate hikes.

THE FTSE 100 Index was on the back foot, down 15.4 points at 6498.6, in early trading as miners weighed on blue-chip stocks.

Kazakhmys shed more than 3%, or 50p to 1435p, after it revealed that copper cathode production had fallen by 5% in the three months to the end of September following a flood at one of its mines and production problems in Kazakhstan.

Sector peer Lonmin fell 69p to 3340p and Vedanta Resources lost 28p to 2122p.

Insurer Friends Provident was ahead 2.1p at 175.2p after it pledged to return £1bn to shareholders next year following a successful merger with Resolution. Prudential also lifted 4p to 748.5p.

The pound at 9am was US$2.0452 compared to US$2.0486 at the previous close while the euro at 9am was £0.6948 compared to £0.6953 at the previous close.

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