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M&S feels the chill as clothing sales drop by quarter

By Roger Baird

High street giant Marks & Spencer posted a drop in quarterly clothing sales, after a colder May impacted demand for its spring and summer collections.

The retailer - which operates 18 stores across Northern Ireland - said its general merchandise like-for-like sales fell 0.4% in the 13 weeks to June 27, compared to a 1.5% fall a year ago, as it went through a "challenging and promotional quarter."

Its general merchandise unit is made up largely of its clothing sales.

But the retailer's fall was much less than the 1% slide the market was expecting, although the slip in general merchandise reverses a solitary quarter of growth in this part of the business after 14 quarters of decline.

The group's food like-for-like sales lifted 0.3% during the period, compared to a 1.7% rise a year ago, with the retailer describing the unit as delivering "another excellent quarter".

The retailer, which launched 700 new food lines during the period, continues to see its high-end items outperform the grocery market, which is locked in a supermarket price war.

The group also said it will launch a £150m share buyback programme for investors.

The move cheered shareholders gathered at the group's annual meeting in at Wembley Stadium in London yesterday.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said: "We continue to make progress against our key priorities. Our food business did very well in a difficult market. In general merchandise, sales were broadly level on last year and we are on track to deliver the planned increase in gross margin."

In May, Marks & Spencer turned a corner by posting its first annual profits increase in four years.

The firm reported underlying profits for the year to March 28 rose 6.1% to £661.2m, beating expectations, and easing some of the pressure Mr Bolland has been under.

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