Christmas clothing cheer for M&S

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United Kingdom apparel retailer Marks and Spencer has announced upbeat results following surge in sales of clothing and homeware section for the first time in two years.

In the 13 weeks to December 31 the retailer's clothing and home division saw like-for-like sales rise by 2.3 per cent.

M&S shares were up 1.8% at 346.50 pence on Thursday following the announcement, having jumped around 8.0% just after the open.

The department store was cautious to celebrate the result, stating that around 1.5 per cent of the clothing sales boost was down to extra trading days.

The clothing, homewares and food retailer is in the midst of a major restructuring, shifting the emphasis in a large number of its stores away from its struggling clothing business and towards its popular grocery arm.

Rowe said that "better ranges, better availability and better prices" helped to improve its performance in a "difficult marketplace".

Marks & Spencer said a reduction in discounting over the holiday period fueled the better-than-expected sales growth, along with improved availability and a more attractive range of styles.

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In addition, M&S said it will shift space allocation in its stores towards its Food business, open more Simply Food stores and will exit loss-making global stores, instead turning to a franchise model for its overseas business.

Over the shorter seven-week Christmas period to January 7, which also includes the Black Friday promotional frenzy, like-for-like sales were up by 5pc, or 1.7pc in constant currency. "We expect the shares to continue to underperform". And M&S Food was only 0.3 per cent like-for-like on the same basis.

Primark's owner Associated British Foods (ABF) said that the fashion chain's like-for-like sales for the quarter were good and market share increased.

The group's global arm saw sales lift 2.9% on a constant currency basis.

Worldwide sales for M&S were up 19%, benefiting from weakness in the pound against the euro.

However Mr Rowe cautioned that timing would be against them for the next trading update: "As we look forward, our Q4 reported numbers will be adversely affected by sale timing and a later Easter".