WWD.com/globe-news/retail-business/ms-bracing-for-tough-year-1980164/

LONDON – Marks and Spencer PLC, long viewed as a bellwether for UK retail sales, is bracing itself for an uneasy 2008.

“We expect trading conditions to remain tough throughout 2008,” said Sir Stuart Rose in a third-quarter trading statement Wednesday, adding that UK market conditions had begun to deteriorate through November and December.

“We are well-positioned with a strong product offer and better than ever values across our business,” he added.

On Wednesday, Nationwide Building Society, a UK bank, mortgage, loan and credit card company, reported its consumer confidence index fell for the third consecutive month in December. The company blamed economic uncertainty, and higher food and oil prices.

In Wednesday’s statement, M&S reported its worst quarterly performance in two years: UK sales rose 2 percent overall, although like-for-like sales, which do not take into account new store openings, dropped 2.2 percent.

During the period, apparel sales fell by 1.2 percent, home increased by 3.2, and food rose by 5.1. M&S remains the UK’s largest apparel retailer. The company only gave percentage changes for the quarter. It will report its fourth-quarter and end-year results on May 20.

M&S said it did not discount stock in the run-up to Christmas, and that sale stocks have already cleared after the Christmas sale. Prices were slashed up to 75 percent during the sale.