UPDATE 1-John Lewis weak Christmas puts staff bonus under threat

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LONDON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Britain's John Lewis Partnership forecast "significantly" lower profits for its 2019 financial year after Christmas sales fell, raising the prospect that it might not pay staff an annual bonus.

John Lewis Partnership, which runs the eponymous department stores business and up-market supermarket Waitrose, is an employee owned business which usually rewards staff with an annual payout equivalent to a percentage of their salary.

The last time the Partnership did not pay a bonus was in 1953.

Like rival department stores, John Lewis has been under pressure for some time, and in 2018-19 it reported a 45% drop in profit, hurt by weak demand and rising costs.

The company said on Thursday that profit before exceptionals will be significantly lower for the current 2019-20 year and, as such, the board would decide in February whether it is "prudent" to pay staff a bonus.

John Lewis's leadership will also change in February when Sharon White, former head of media and telecoms regulator Ofcom, is due to succeed incumbent Charlie Mayfield. The company announced on Thursday that Paula Nickolds, managing director of the department stores, would also leave in February.

Gross sales across the group fell 1.8% over the seven week Christmas period to Jan.4, with department store sales down 2% on an underlying basis, while Waitrose sales rose 0.4% on the same basis. (Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Kate Holton)

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