LONDON — Marks & Spencer plc, a bellwether for the British high street, reported a 2.3 percent rise in fourth-quarter sales, and warned of tough times ahead.

In the U.K., the food, home and clothing retailer’s core market, sales of general merchandise fell 3.4 percent, while food rose 4.9 percent. The company only reported percentage sales figures for the period. Full-year results will be reported in May.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said he was satisfied with the performance in the period ended April 2, but remains cautious about the outlook for the current year.

“We had a good fourth quarter in a challenging trading environment. We outperformed the market and grew share in both food and clothing,” he said.

 He added that business would become more challenging due to pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes and higher commodity prices.

M&S said the fourth-quarter decline in general merchandise sales was in line with expectations, given the tough comparison of 9.1 percent growth in the corresponding quarter last year, and challenging trading conditions.

It added that men’s wear and lingerie performed strongly in the quarter and that the spring women’s wear collection was off to a good start.

International sales were up 12.6 percent and M&S Direct Internet sales rose 13.7 percent, the company said.

Bolland said plans to transform M&S into a leading international, multichannel retailer were moving ahead. “While the short term trading conditions will be difficult, we have identified a clear path for long term growth, and will continue to focus on delivering against our plan,” he said.

Last week, Bolland announced the retailer’s plans to re-enter the French market with a twin strategy of bricks and clicks. At the end of this year the British retailer will open a 15,000-square-foot unit at 100 Champs Elysees that will stock a selection of women’s wear, lingerie and convenience food.

 
The company, which shuttered its French stores in 2001, will also launch a French-language e-commerce site priced in euros and offering men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, along with home wares.

Going forward, the plan is to roll out M&S Simply Food franchise stores in and around Paris, and eventually open larger stores that sell clothing as well.

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