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M&S shares surge after increase in sales of clothing

By Roger Baird

Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland said the retailer was "trading with self-confidence" after its clothing division registered its first rise in sales in more than three years.

But Mr Bolland refused to say that the under-pressure retailer - which has had turned the corner after notching a 0.7% increase in like-for-like sales at its general merchandise arm - a quarterly figure stronger than City expectations.

The business has eight Simply Food stores around Northern Ireland and 10 larger stores selling food and other lines.

The retailer's shares surged 6% in the FTSE 100 Index yesterday as it said customers had responded to changes in "product quality and styling" and after it sold more full-price items.

The company's food business also saw like-for-like sales in the 13-week period to March 28 rise by 0.7%, helped by record St Valentine's Day sales.

The group said its spring and summer collections have been well received, including its much talked-about 1970s-style suede skirt worn by TV presenter and model Alexa Chung.

It also said its Autograph and Limited Edition brands sold well, with both almost notching up double-digit total sales during the period.

Mr Bolland said: "We have been bang on trend."

The M&S boss has been under increasing pressure to turn around the clothing business, which until yesterday had experienced sales declines for 14 quarters in a row.

The retailer's performance has stuttered despite turnaround efforts including a multi-billion pound investment drive, the hiring of new fashion executives and a new celebrity-driven marketing push.

Annual profits have fallen for three years in a row and were recently overtaken by rival Next, although the City forecasts M&S will improve profits in the 2014/15 financial year to £641m from the £623m seen in 2013/14.

Analysts at Citi boosted their full-year forecast by £10m to £650m as a result of the positive update.

The retailer's progress in clothing was partly disrupted by more stock going into the Christmas sale as a result of the unseasonal conditions through the autumn and winter season.

Analysts had expected the retailer's general merchandise unit to report a 1.2% fall in like-for-like sales.

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