THURSDAY MARKET CLOSE: M&S helps push FTSE higher

Marks and Spencer shares were 23.5p higher at 554p. Picture: PA
Marks and Spencer shares were 23.5p higher at 554p. Picture: PA
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High street heavyweight Marks & Spencer added some sparkle to the top-flight as it revealed a surprise upturn in fortunes for its embattled clothing division, pushing its shares to a seven-year high.

The retailer added more than 4 per cent in an otherwise low key session ahead of the long Easter break as the FTSE 100 Index put on 23.96 points or 0.4 per cent to close at 6,833.46.

Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG, said: “With a long weekend ahead of them, traders look to have only half-heartedly set about the day’s activities.

“After what has been a bullish first quarter for equity markets it is perhaps no real surprise that investors have reduced their exposure. The ubiquitous mention of Greece and its travails surrounding austerity has hung around the markets again.”

Marks & Spencer shares were 23.5p higher at 554p after the 0.7 per cent lift in like-for-like sales in the general merchandise arm, which includes clothing.

The company’s food business also impressed as like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to 28 March rose by a similar percentage, helped by record Valentine’s sales.

Investors in rival fashion retailers took heart from Marks’s cheer, with Primark owner Associated British Foods up 2 per cent, or 50p, to 2,866p and Next rising 55p to 7,055p.

In other corporate news, homeware retailer Dunelm was 2 per cent or 16.5p higher at 869.5p after it reported like-for-like growth of 4.9 per cent in the quarter to 28 March.

This was weaker than the rate of 5.8 per cent seen across the first 39 weeks of the financial year, but investors were reassured by the company’s guidance that full-year margins are set to be broadly flat.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Coca-Cola HBC up 57p to 1,279p, Marks & Spencer up 23.5p to 554p, Hikma Pharmaceuticals up 64p to 2,195p and Imperial Tobacco up 86p to 3,131p.