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Clothing proves Xmas winner for M&S

Marks & Spencer said that like-for-like sales of general merchandise, which includes clothing, rose by 1.2% in the 13 weeks ended December 26.

Total clothing sales rose 4% against a total group sales rise of 2.3%. Sales of knitwear, sleepwear, and footwear were “particularly strong” over the Christmas trading period, which M&S hailed as a success. Clothing market share advanced by 20 basis points over the 13 weeks.

Overall like-for-like sales, which combine the retailer’s food sales with general merchandise were up 0.8% over the Christmas period.

Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose said: “We had a good Christmas, continuing the improvements seen throughout 2009.”

But he cautioned: “We expect trading conditions over the coming year to remain challenging as a result of continuing economic uncertainty. We believe, however, that customers will continue to seek out real value and quality, for which we are justly famous.”

Rose said that full price trading had been maintained as planned and stock levels well managed, meaning that less stock went into the Sale than was the case last year. M&S expects to clear Sale items by the end of this week.

The retailer reported a 32% rise in online sales and international turnover was ahead by 6%.

Ambrian analyst Philip Dorgan said: “This is an okay statement. Two year like-for-like sales are still down and, stripping out online, the non-food improvement would look less impressive. Food sales are disappointing, given the scale of margin investment.”

“However, M&S will deliver a much stronger pre-tax profit performance for 2009/10 than was expected a year ago and we believe it has a significant sales and margin recovery opportunity.”

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