Marks & Spencer serves up 'piping hot' Xmas performance as turnaround hopes build

Shoppers have continued to return to Marks & Spencer for fashion and homeware as the high street giant hailed a “strong” Christmas.

Bosses at the chain said the transformation plan launched in 2020 was leading to better results as the group posted a jump in sales for the past three months.

It revealed that group sales rose by 8.6 per cent to £3.27 billion over the 13 weeks to January 1, compared with pre-pandemic levels.

M&S said growth was driven by its food business but highlighted that its clothing and home operation - which has been the retailer's problem area for a number of years - reported a jump in sales for the second successive quarter.

M&S, which has undergone major restructuring including store closures and job losses, said its strong performance means it is now on track to post a pre-tax profit of 'at least £500 million' for the current financial year. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Chief executive Steve Rowe said the clothing operation saw “robust online” growth amid positive demand for Christmas gifts.

Overall clothing and homeware sales rose by 3.2 per cent to £1.08bn for the quarter against 2019 levels, spurred by a 50.8 per cent leap in online sales.

The company said that food sales jumped 12.4 per cent for the period, as its Simply Food and retail park shops continued to surpass expectations. It added that the figures represented its strongest Christmas ever for food sales.

Rowe said: “Trading over the Christmas period has been strong, demonstrating the continued improvements we’ve made to product and value.

“Clothing and home has delivered growth for the second successive quarter, supported by robust online and full price sales growth. Food has maintained its momentum, outperforming the market over both 12 and 24 months.

“The market continues to be impacted by the headwinds and tailwinds that we reported in the first half, but I remain encouraged that our transformation plan is now driving improved performance.”

M&S added that its strong performance means it is now on track to post a pre-tax profit of “at least £500 million” for the current financial year.

Ross Hindle, an analyst at research firm Third Bridge, said: “M&S has served up a piping hot performance with total UK sales strongly beating consensus estimates.

“A resurgent M&S was Britain's fastest-growing retailer over the Christmas quarter, a big beneficiary of Britain's appetite for at-home luxury as consumers sought to make the best of another Covid Christmas.

“Back in 2020, M&S was struggling to find its mojo, however, a well-executed restructuring has seen the group outperform peers over the past 12 months.

“Fresher fashion labels, an improved website, and a more modern store environment are all building momentum, however it is the group’s partnership with Ocado that continues to shine bright.”

John Moore, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, added: “The turnaround at Marks & Spencer continued over Christmas, with strong growth in sales against not only the same period pre-pandemic but last year as well.

“This trading statement is another positive step in the right direction for what many view as an iconic British brand. There is no doubt tough decisions made by management have helped the turnaround and continued self-help measures will be required to regain the FTSE 100 status M&S once had.”

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