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M&S boosted as profits overshadow clothing woes

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Shares at Marks & Spencer were on the front foot after the retail giant unveiled a better-than-expected rise in half-year profits, but saw a further fall in sales at its embattled clothing arm as it cut back on sales promotions.

The chain said underlying pre-tax profits rose 6.1% to £284m in the six months to September 26 thanks to higher food sales and as it focused on profit margins in its general merchandise business, which includes womenswear.

The FTSE 100 Index lifted 52.4 points to 6434.2, with the market making welcome gains after struggling for direction in recent sessions.

Marks & Spencer was one of the biggest FTSE 100 risers, with a gain of 18p to 538.5p.

However, housebuilders continued to fall for the second session in a row on the back of a profit warning from Countrywide and Tuesday’s gloomy note from Liberum which questioned valuations in the sector.

Taylor Wimpey was down 5.8p at 181.9p, Barratt Developments was 14.5p lower to 572p and Persimmon fell 46p to 1875p.

FTSE 250 estate agent Countrywide said earnings in its first nine months of the year to the end of September were 11% down compared to a year ago.

It added that due to “short-term pressure on market volumes”, it expected its full-year earnings would be less than the £121.1m in made last year.

Countrywide shares fell 54.1 to 410.9p

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon was also lower in the second tier, down 35p to 741p after it said increased labour costs may contribute to its annual profits being slightly lower than last year.

It added for the 13 weeks to October 25, like-for-like sales increased by 2.4% and total sales increased by 6.1%, boosted by the Rugby World Cup.

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