M&S clothing holds back sales growth despite its best performance in two years

Marks and Spencer's results for the 13 weeks to 29 June show food like-for-like sales are up 1.8 per cent, but clothing down is down 1.6 per cent (release). That fall is the best performance the clothing division has seen in two years, while online sales grew by 29.9 per cent.

These results are in line with analyst expectations, as general merchandise and clothing weakness continues. The firm's Autumn season is due to arrive in stores this month, and could revive these flagging divisions.

Marc Bolland, chief executive said:

Our General Merchandise business showed some improvement this quarter and the Food business delivered another excellent performance, continuing the strong underlying trend.

Our International business also performed well during the quarter and M&S.com sales were very strong.

Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital:

We acknowledge the understandable concern on behalf of investors surrounding the ongoing underperformance of the core ladieswear category in the UK. The performance has been unacceptable for a sustained period of time and the management machinations have not been wholly constructive. As such, there is pressure on the forthcoming autumn/winter (A/W) range to make progress for M&S. As we have stated before, we are encouraged by the fashion editors’ response to the new ranges, but it will be the sell through which will be more telling to our minds.

Indeed, at the risk of underestimating the need for short-term progress, we do not see the forthcoming A/W range as a panacea for M&S. What we are looking for, against favourable comparatives, is evidence of an improvement in store execution and sales performance. As such those comparatives need to be kept in mind and with a better subsequent Spring/Summer campaign, to us it will actually be this time next year when we will be able to say with some certainty and substance whether or not M&S is on a demonstrably better footing in its core operation.