M&S’s revival is lost, along with spring

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Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland’s strategy for reviving the firm’s clothing sales will come under fresh scrutiny with Thursday’s trading update.

Analysts expect the prolonged cold spell to have added to the woes of one of Britain’s biggest clothing retailers, by hitting sales of its spring and summer range.

The retailer, which will updates on trading for the three months to 31 March, has already seen clothing sales squeezed by heavy discounting and weak consumer sentiment. Analysts expect underlying general merchandise sales to be down by 4.5 per cent.

Bolland drafted in former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl last year to revitalise the women’swear range, but in January the group admitted it needs more time to formulate its turnaround plan.

In contrast, half-year figures from books and stationery retailer WH Smith should show continued resilience as the group continues to prize profits over revenues.

Despite the high street’s woes, interim results on Thursday are expected to continue the chain’s positive momentum, with its focus on opening sites at travel hubs while cutting costs proving to be a winning combination.

Brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald expects half-year profits to grow 3 per cent to £67.8 million, with the higher growth transport hub outlets supporting the cash cow of the high street business. WH Smith is also expected to shine more light on its revival of CD and DVD sales.

Low-profit margins drove the company away from the entertainment market over the past few years but, after the closure of more than 100 HMV stores, CDs and DVDs are making a comeback in some WH Smith outlets.

The recent icy weather is set to have provided a boost to retailer Halfords, with car maintenance sales expected to have surged in its final quarter. This year’s early Easter is also likely to have helped increase sales for the car parts and bicycle group in a welcome fourth-quarter fillip as its turnaround gathers momentum.

Retail analyst Kate Calvert at Cantor Fitzgerald is forecasting Wednesday’s update to show like-for-like sales growth picking up to 0.8 per cent in the three months to 31 March, from 0.4 per cent in the previous quarter.