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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.”

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