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Retail: M&S hails ‘clear signs of improvement’ as clothing sales edge higher

PUBLISHED: 08:46 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:42 10 April 2014

Marks & Spencer today reported better than expected sales figures.

Marks & Spencer today reported better than expected sales figures.

Archant

Marks & Spencer delivered better-than-expected sales figures today amid signs of a revival for its struggling womenswear business.

The retailer said clothing sales rose 0.6% on an underlying basis in the 13 weeks to March 29, driven by “clear signs of improvement” in womenswear following last autumn’s relaunch of its M&S Collection.

Marks said in a trading update: “Customers are responding well to our refocus on quality and style.”

However, across the general merchandise business, which includes homewares as well as clothing, like-for-like sales were 0.6% lower in the quarter.

It means the company has suffered three years of declines in the division, although today’s figure was better than the 1% fall expected in the City.

The company, which has hired new senior personnel and launched a celebrity marketing push in a bid to revive its fashion business, said the improved performance came in the face of high levels of discounting.

It added: “Despite some improvement in consumer confidence, we remain cautious about the outlook. Our focus is on continuing to transform Marks & Spencer into an international, multi-channel retailer.”

Marks said its food department had a “great quarter”, with the later timing of Easter failing to prevent an 18th quarter in a row of like-for-like growth.

However, with the resilient sales performance having been offset by continued pressure on margins, the City expects annual results from M&S, due to be published on May 20, to show a 6% fall in profits to £623m.

It will mean the 130-year-old company being overtaken for the first time by rival Next, a relative upstart at 32 years old, which last month announced profits of £695m.

Freddie George, a retail analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, kept his “sell” rating on the stock today and warned the profits figure could go as low as £610m.

He added: “We continue to believe it will take a number of seasons before the existing team is able to manifest a marked improvement in performance in womenswear.”

Police have arrested a man in connection with an incident that took place at Sailmakers shopping centre in Ipswich this morning.

Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner is proposing an increase in the force’s council tax precept of 6.8% – which will add an average of £12 a year to the overall council tax bill of each household in the county.

Fewer Suffolk teenagers are getting pregnant than ever before, data reveals.

Engineers worked through the night to restore power to households across Suffolk and north Essex after the region was battered by winds of over 70mph.

Commuters using Greater Anglia trains in Suffolk and Essex are facing further disruption after the region’s rail network was brought to its knees by yesterday’s storm.

A show celebrating the career of the most successful folk rock duos of all time is coming to the Ipswich Regent.

After nine months of, for no particular reason, referring to our unborn first child as “he” (“how’s he doing in there?” etc), it came to me to make the big reveal to my wife in the moments immediately after the birth, writes Elliot Furniss, from Ipswich.

Emergency services are at the scene of a crash in a north Essex village this morning.

A community group is hoping a “miracle” will help it save affordable flats in a Suffolk town – after members were given just four months to raise £275,000.

Staff at Kleeneze in Ipswich have thanked the generosity of its customers after Christmas gift donations for children’s charity Barnardo’s totalled more than £2,000 – it’s biggest year yet.

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