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In Brief: M&S Poaches Asda Exec … Gap Stock Downgrade … Kudos for Coach

<B>M&S POACHES ASDA EXEC:</B> Marks & Spencer plc has wooed yet another executive away from competitor Asda, which has knocked M&S out of first place as the U.K.’s biggest clothing retailer by volume. An M&S spokeswoman confirmed...

M&S POACHES ASDA EXEC: Marks & Spencer plc has wooed yet another executive away from competitor Asda, which has knocked M&S out of first place as the U.K.’s biggest clothing retailer by volume. An M&S spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that Helen Low will join the company as head of design for children’s clothing. Low was until recently design general manager for the George clothing line at Asda, the U.K. subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores. She will join M&S in October and will report to Anthony Thompson, the former Gap executive who is head of the retailer’s children’s wear department. Also in October, Kate Bostock will join M&S as director of women’s wear. Bostock, recruited by M&S earlier this year, was formerly product director of George. According to FashionTrak, Asda increased its share of the clothing and footwear market to 9.4 percent in the 12 weeks to July. M&S’ market share remained at 9.1 percent. M&S, however, is still the market leader by value, while Asda ranks fourth.

GAP STOCK DOWNGRADE: Merrill Lynch analyst Mark Friedman downgraded Gap Inc.’s stock rating to “neutral” from “buy,” amid concerns that cooling sales trends for early fall could potentially frost financials for the San Francisco-based retailer. Friedman cited the downgrade on Gap’s uninspired product offerings, lack of visibility for fall and a lackluster product assortment. The analyst cut his 2004 and 2005 earnings per share estimates by 3 cents and 2 cents to $1.29 and $1.60, respectively. Gap shares closed Wednesday down 2 percent from the prior close, to $19.52. The 52-week high is $25.72, and the low is $16.99.

KUDOS FOR COACH: Coach Japan will receive the People’s Choice Award at the 22nd annual Mainichi Fashion Awards in Tokyo. Coach is being honored for its significant contribution to fashion culture and its impact on Japanese society during a ceremony on Sept. 14. The accessories company’s Japanese division was established three years ago and now occupies that country’s number two position in market share, behind Louis Vuitton. As a result of the brand’s popularity, as well as the success of its flagships in the Ginza, Shibuya and Marunouchi sections of Tokyo, Coach Japan has revved up its plans for stores in Osaka, Sapporo and Sendai to be opened by the end of the year.