Next (LON:NXT) are a company most people in the UK will be familiar with as they are a large clothes retailer with over 500 stores and a FTSE 100 constituent. Perhaps what most people won't be aware of though is the phenomenal success of the shares over the past two decades. Since 1999 (as far back as I can see on Google Finance) the shares have compounded at a rate of 15.3% p.a., and that figure doesn't include dividends. Given other figures I've heard anecdotally from other investors, that figure is even higher if you go back further, rising above 20% p.a.!

Their latest financial report is a brilliant read and it's refreshing to have a company explain what they've done and what they intend to do so clearly without the usual waffle and management speak that's so common. In places they are brutally honest, even to the point where it's slightly comical! Check out this passage:

Planning remains a problem, though often more of a delay than a brick wall. We are actively working with planning officers, councillors and local communities to deliver new shops, investment and jobs. We continue to make a greater investment in the external architecture of our new stores, particularly on Retail Parks. Our aim is to transform the quality of construction associated with out-of-town retail and create the sort of buildings that communities will see as an asset, not an eyesore.
In our dealing with local councils it is noticeable that some are much more pro-growth and pro-jobs than others. Many local councils are enthusiastic and efficient; but a few remain an unhealthy mix of Luddite intransigence and incompetence. Going forward, in areas where councils traditionally have got away with just saying “no”, we will be more active in harnessing the law and the full weight of public opinion to campaign for growth

The part of the report that really surprised me though was the section where they explain their philosophy around share buybacks. Most companies don't really think very hard about share buybacks and when to do them but Next are explicitly clear that they see it as just another re-investment opportunity to be analysed alongside others. It's the kind of thing one expects to read in the Berkshire Hathaway annual letter and reminds me a lot of Outsiders (one of my…

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