Sales boost keeps M&S recovery on track

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The Independent Online

Retailer Marks & Spencer maintained its recent recovery today after reporting another sharp pick-up in quarterly trading figures.

The group said like-for-like sales - based on store space in use for more than a year - rose 8.2% in the 13 weeks to July 1. That reflected a rise of 10.5% in general merchandise, which includes clothing, and 5.8% for food.

While the figures have been helped by comparisons with a weak performance last year, chief executive Stuart Rose still described the outcome as "encouraging".

Mr Rose added: "Despite the challenging trading environment, we are confident that we can continue to drive the business profitably."

He said the company planned to create 4,000 store jobs in order to satisfy extra demand and the new space coming on stream.

Mr Rose said: "We continue to focus on improving product, service and the refurbishment of our store portfolio, 42 of which are currently under development."

M&S said it continued to increase market share, with the figure for clothing and footwear improving to 10% in the 12 weeks to May 28, compared with 9.3% a year earlier. In food, the company's share in the 12 weeks to June 18 rose to 4.1%, from 3.5%.

Today's figures, which were issued ahead of the company's annual meeting in Birmingham, extend the company's run of growth to four consecutive quarters.

M&S unveiled a 35% hike in annual profits to £751.4 million in May, although Mr Rose said the true test for the retailer would come this Christmas.

Mr Rose has overhauled the supply chain and transformed a large slice of the store portfolio, while embarking on a major advertising drive in order to promote new ranges, particularly in food and clothing.

He has been rewarded with a sharp rise in the company's share price, which stood at 583p last night. Two years ago, when Mr Rose took the helm, the figure was languishing below 400p and the company was facing a takeover attempt by retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green.

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