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Marks & Spencer Q4 Sales Rise 3.1%

British retailer said food outperformed general merchandise, with apparel sales falling 3.8 percent.

LONDON Marks & Spencer Plc reported its strongest quarterly sales growth for two years in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012/13, with group sales up 3.1 percent amidst what chief executive officer Marc Bolland called “difficult trading conditions.”

M&S reported only percentage figures for the period, and is to report its results for the year to March 31 in May.

Like-for-like U.K. sales of general merchandise, which includes clothing, fell by 3.8 percent, marginally beating analysts’ expectations of a fall of 4 percent or more. Bolland said that the company is “working hard on improving our performance in general merchandise” and that M&S made “progress in our operational execution.”

Growth was boosted by strong multi-channel and food sales, helped by the timing of Easter. Comp-store sales of food were up 4 percent, while multi-channel sales jumped 22.9 percent.

M&S noted that multi-channel growth accelerated in the quarter as a result of the increased participation in its “click and collect” offer, as well as increased traffic to its Web site. Mobile sales grew by over 70 percent year-on-year. A new e-commerce distribution centre starts is set to open later in April and a new Web platform is planned for September.

International sales were up 7 percent, with a good performance from M&S’ franchise business in the Middle East, and strong performances in the key Asian markets of China and India. The company added that “despite the macro-economic issues in some of the legacy markets, our performance in Europe improved in the quarter.”

Looking ahead, the company maintained the cautious sentiment that it expressed in January, reiterating that it expects “the pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes to continue throughout 2013.”