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A worrying warning from Next boss Simon Wolfson

 (Next)
(Next)

IF he weren’t busy running perhaps the best retailer in Britain, Simon Wolfson would make an expert internet troll.

The Next chief executive can turn a phrase. His results statements are more than just dull descriptions of his results, they are events.

In today’s half-year results presentation he starts negative and then pivots to this: “Before this document sinks to levels of depression only usually seen in newspapers, it is worth pointing out that there are some features of our economy, such as employment opportunities and accumulated savings that bring some comfort.”

Ouch.

Of course it would be nice to be optimistic, if only for variety’s sake, but there isn’t much cause for it.

Wolfson quotes famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s saying: “There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.”

I know I don’t know. But in anything approaching normal times, Simon Wolfson does know. His style is to downplay expectations then beat them.

Anything could happen, he might say, while plainly having the clearest idea of what is most likely to occur.

At this point he says that his own “informed best guesses” are less informed than usual. “More than ever, it is not possible to predict the future on the basis of the past,” he says.

The past has never been a certain predictor of the future, but it is supposed to be a reasonable guide, a clue to direction of travel.

That even Wolfson says he can’t be sure of anything should worry us all.