LONDON – Sales at Marks & Spencer plc rose 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter ended March 28, boosted by growth in online and international businesses, the company said in a trading statement.

Overall sales in the U.K. fell 0.3 percent. Stripping out the impact of new store openings, U.K. sales would have fallen 4.2 percent.

M&S said it had not changed its expectations for U.K. retail gross margin for the 2008/09 fiscal year. That figure will be around 175 basis points lower than last year, the statement said.

The drop in U.K. sales had been widely expected by financial analysts. Despite the poor performance, banks here consider M&S to be a generally healthy company that will survive the current economic turmoil.

Clothing was among the worst performing categories, with U.K. sales down 1 percent. Sales of general merchandise were down 1.2 percent.

Online sales rose 20 percent while international sales, through M&S franchises, rose 23 percent.

M&S chairman Sir Stuart Rose said the store remained committed to selling goods at full price, with four main sale events per year.

“While the outlook remains uncertain, we are confident that we are doing the right things for our customers and for our business,” he said.

M&S plans to release full-year results on May 19.

For complete coverage, see Wednesday’s WWD.