M&S in bullish mood despite poor sales

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Marks & Spencer pledged yesterday to expand the high street giant's share of the clothing market as the retailer disappointed the City with a weak trading update.

Shares in the group fell 3 per cent to 306.25p after it revealed that like-for-like sales had grown by only 0.6 per cent in its second quarter. This included flat sales of its clothing, footwear and home furnishings ranges and just 1.6 per cent growth in its food arm.

Roger Holmes, who described the sales performance as "reasonable", said the company "would not be satisfied" until it had increased its 11 per cent share of the clothing market. He said the company saw opportunities for improvement, pointing to its extensive range of winter boots and its new "Sp" range of casual menswear.

"We definitely feel we have the potential to gain market share," Mr Holmes said. The group's market share was flat during its first half, which means that for the past three months it has failed to make inroads into high street rivals such as Debenhams and Next.

Analysts singled out M&S's food division, which normally enjoys runaway sales growth, for particular criticism. Its languid increase in underlying sales contrasted with strong growth at Tesco and Morrisons.

Mr Holmes blamed the recent hot weather for the lacklustre performance from its food and non-food sales. Its stores did not sell the beer and branded soft drinks that were so popular elsewhere, he said, while its chilled ready meals failed to entice. However, total food sales in the 11 weeks to 27 September rose 5.4 per cent, buoyed by the expansion of its Simply Food stores.

Home, the division that is being rejuvenated by the former Selfridges boss Vittorio Radice, saw total sales in the second quarter fall by 1.7 per cent.