SHARES in Marks & Spencer and Debenhams rallied yesterday after the two British retailers revealed strong December trading, despite economic and consumer headwinds.
Debenhams rose more than 10 per cent after the department store group posted flat like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to 7 January, or 6.5 per cent growth including VAT, slightly above analyst forecasts.
Chief executive Michael Sharp said the group had performed well across all sectors but sales of cosmetics and beauty were particularly strong, rising 21 per cent in the week before Christmas compared with the same time last year.
He insisted that the level of promotional activity was the same as last year but the product mix had changed, with early promotions on knitwear helping to boost sales.
Meanwhile Marks & Spencer saw like-for-like food sales in the 13 weeks to 31 December soar by three per cent as party food and bestsellers like pork crackling helped drive record food sales in the week before Christmas.
Overall the group saw a modest rise in UK sales of 0.5 per cent as general merchandise – which includes clothing and homewares – dragged down the total by falling 1.8 per cent.
Clothing sales rose by 1.1 per cent, thanks to festive discounting, but the group’s homewares arm suffered a 13.3 per cent fall, partly due to its decision to stop selling electrical gadgets in its stores and shoppers cutting back on big ticket items.
M&S shares rose three per cent, while Debenhams soared nine per cent yesterday.