M&S sales rise bucks grim retail trend

Retailer Marks & Spencer met forecasts with a seventh consecutive rise in underlying quarterly sales, as its older and more affluent customers cope better with a squeeze in disposable incomes.

Britain's biggest clothing retailer, which also sells homewares and upmarket foods, said Wednesday sales at UK stores open over a year, excluding VAT sales tax, rose 1.7 per cent in the 13 weeks to 2July, its fiscal first quarter.

That compares with analyst forecasts of a rise of 1-2 per cent, according to a company poll of seven, and a fourth quarter rise of 0.1 percent.

M&S said it was growing market share in both clothing and food.

The 127-year-old group, which serves 21m Britons a week from around 700 stores and has over 350, mainly franchised, stores overseas, said its guidance for 2011/12 was unchanged.

However, in common with a raft of other UK retailers M&S said trading conditions would stay tough in the balance of the year due to pressure on consumers' incomes and high commodity prices.

"As a result we remain cautious about the outlook," it said.

Shares in M&S, which have risen 6 per cent over the last year, closed Tuesday at 373 pence, valuing the business at about £5.84bn.

The first quarter trading update was published ahead of M&S's annual shareholders' meeting.