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UK's Marks & Spencer Q4 sales up 1.9%

MARKS & Spencer Group PLC, Britain's largest clothing retailer, reported reported that fourth quarter sales rose 1.9 percent despite a drop of 4.2 percent in its home market.

The company said gross sales on a comparable basis in Britain were down 0.3 percent in the 13 weeks ending March 31 compared to a year earlier; food sales rose 0.4 percent but general merchandise sales fell 1.2 percent.

Sales outside Britain rose 23 percent, the company said.

Philip Dorgan, analyst at Panmure Gordon Ltd., said the report was "a lot better" than consensus.

"The market has therefore been right to focus on the upside post recession, rather than worry about the short term effects of the economy upon profits," Dorgan said.

Marks & Spencer shares rose 9 percent to 288.5 pence (US$4.12) on the London Stock Exchange.

"After criticism of misguided offerings, along with the company's own admission of strategic mistakes, the turnaround seems to have begun," said Richard Hunter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers.

"Like-for-like sales, whilst down, were an improvement both on the previous quarter and also on market expectations," Hunter said.

But Stuart Rose, the company's executive chairman, said the market remained difficult. "It hasn't got any worse, but certainly hasn't got any better," he said.

In November, Marks & Spencer reported a 43 percent fall in net profit to 223 million pounds (US$319 million) for the first half of the year. The company announced in January that it would close 27 stores in a cost-cutting drive.

The company will publish full-year results on May 19.


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