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Don’t expect much festive cheer in M&S’s Christmas trading update

Clothes sales have long been poor but a recent slowdown in the previously resilient food division has spooked investors
M&S store
M&S shares are down more than 10% over the past couple of months

Like most of the retail mob, there is likely to have been little festive cheer for Marks & Spencer Group PLC (LON:MKS) over the all-important Christmas period.

The retailer has long been struggling with flogging its clothes, which are aimed at the older generation not known for regularly revamping their wardrobe.

READ: RBS downgrades M&S on challenging outlook for food business

M&S has tried to change that image by bringing on Holly Willoughby as one of its brand ambassadors, and its association with Gareth Southgate and the England football team didn’t do it any harm in the summer.

But sales have still been sluggish: UBS is forecasting a 1.5% drop in like-for-like clothing and home sales in the third quarter and its analysts think the Black Friday effect will likely have dented margins, too.

More worrying for M&S is that those issues seem to have spread to the food division, which had previously proved resilient.

Like-for-like food sales fell 2.9% in the first half of its year and UBS expects to see this trend worsen in the latest quarter.

“The main risk in non-food will be from margin, where the full price participation may have been below expectations given industry discounting around Black Friday, and the mild weather,” said investment UBS.

“In food, second quarter like-for-like trends were weaker as the business switches from short-term promotions into lower headline prices. This could continue to affect sales short term, although may give a modest margin benefit.”

Shares were up 1.6% to 279.7p on Wednesday afternoon.

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Marks and Spencer Group PLC Timeline

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