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M&S back in growth, but womenswear ‘challenging’

Marc BollandMarks & Spencer returned to growth providing some relief to chief executive Marc Bolland who has battled for years to stem falling sales.

However, the general merchandise division, which includes the key womenswear ranges,  remained “challenging” and failed to meet expectations.

Group underlying profit before tax for the year rose 6.1% to £661.m while statutory profit before tax was up 3.4% to £600m on group sales up 0.4% to £10.3 billion.

Once again food was the star performer with performance ahead of expectations and margins up.

But  the company admitted that full year performance it GM “did not meet expectations”, even though the division grew in the final quarter. Online sales were back in growth in the final quarter, following disruption earlier in the year.

The company also experienced difficult trading overseas with operating profit in the international business down by 24.8%.

Confidence however remains positive and the company proposes a 7.4% rise in the final dividend to 11.6p, making a total of 18p, up 5.9% for the year.

Mr Bolland said: “We made good progress in three of our four key priorities for the year.  In food, we had an outstanding year in a difficult market. In GM, we significantly increased the gross margin, and, while sales performance was below our expectations, we returned to growth in the fourth quarter.

“We continued to control costs and capital expenditure tightly, resulting in significantly improved free cash flow.

“We are transforming M&S into a stronger, more agile business – putting the right infrastructure, capabilities and talent in place to drive our strategic priorities.”

Chairman Robert Swannell, said: “We are a more capable business following a sustained period of investment in our infrastructure and in our people. Our focus continues to be on delivery of the strategy and improvement in shareholder returns.”

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