M&S staff in line for £56m share windfall

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A fifth of Marks & Spencer's staff are to pocket a £56m Christmas present after the high-street retail giant reports encouraging seasonal sales on Tuesday.

Some 12,000 employees who invested in the company's staff share scheme will each get a slice of the windfall, to be paid out later this month. With M&S's share price above 700p, staff are expected to pocket gains ranging from £1,000 to £45,000.

Many M&S employees have saved between £50 and £250 per month over the three-, five- or seven-year schemes. For example, those who saved the maximum amount, £250 a month, in the three-year scheme have made a gain of more than £20,000 on their original investment of £9,000.

M&S has offered employees the opportunity to share in the progress of the company through its Sharesave schemes for more than 20 years. Employees save on a monthly basis for a fixed term and use their savings, plus a bonus, to buy shares at a 20 per cent discount to the market price.

At present, over 22,000 M&S employees are members of the scheme. The 10,000 who will not benefit this year have schemes that mature in future years.

M&S will tell the stock market this week that Christmas trading in its stores has been strong. The retailer is expected to meet analysts' expectations by saying that overall like-for-like trading is up by almost 6 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Analysts at Barclays believe that M&S will report a 9 per cent hike in clothing sales and a more modest growth of 3 per cent for its food division.

However, not all the retail news from the festive period has been positive. Many high-street chains have been hit by a boom in online sales, which topped £7.5bn in December - a rise of 50 per cent on 2005.