M&S holiday trading update awaited

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Marc Bolland will update the market on his first Christmas as chief executive of Marks & Spencer

The performance of UK retailers in the blizzard-hit run-up to Christmas will become clearer next week with trading statements from major names including Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Halfords.

A trading update from Marks & Spencer on Tuesday will reveal how well Marc Bolland’s first Christmas with the high street giant played out.

M&S has enjoyed a good run in 2010 with like-for-like sales consistently beating expectations and profits in the first half of the financial year up 17% at £348.6 million. But fellow high street retailers – such as Next, Mothercare and HMV – have revealed a slump in sales in the run up to Christmas as sub-zero temperatures and snow kept potential shoppers indoors.

Analysts’ consensus figures predict total like-for-like sales will be up 2%, which includes a 1.5% rise for food and 2.5% for general merchandise, such as clothing. The update will be the first since Dutchman Mr Bolland unveiled his three-year plan, including a drive to place the chain’s own brand at the forefront of the vision for the business.

Mr Bolland also plans to strip back the non-M&S food lines on offer, but the company will increase the total food range from 7,000 to 8,000 lines. The former Morrisons boss also said £150 million will be invested into the group’s online business. Andrew Kasoulis, analyst at Credit Suisse, said: “We would not be surprised to hear of senior personnel changes to accompany the statement, as Mr Bolland has been undoing a lot of his predecessor’s initiatives faster than we thought likely.”

Christmas trading updates from supermarket giants Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons will reveal how the festive period shaped up for food retailers amid the disruption of snow and ice at the busiest time of year. It is thought that the major players were able to claw back lost sales in a last-minute rush after the snow thawed. Figures from market research firm Nielsen showed food retail sales soared 16.6% in the week before Christmas, while sales rose by 6.9% overall in December – beating the 6.7% seen a year earlier.

But Morrisons, which will be first to report on Monday, will have to address concerns that it has lost ground to its rivals after the Nielsen data revealed it was the worst Christmas performer of the “big four”.

Sainsbury’s follows on Wednesday after a more resurgent period for the group, which saw sales growth accelerate to 2.9% in its second quarter from 1.1% in the first. Credit Suisse is expecting like-for-like sales growth of 2.8% excluding VAT and fuel for this festive quarter, or 3.6% including VAT – again a sharp slowdown on last year due to food inflation, but forecast to be the best performance of the top four players.

Tesco, which follows on Thursday, recently gave some cheer after a period of slow sales growth when it revealed a pick up in its third quarter performance to 1.5% including VAT. The forecasts among analysts for this festive season are mixed, with Credit Suisse pencilling in UK like-for-like sales growth of 1.7% – excluding VAT and 2.5% including VAT – following the encouraging third quarter.

Weather-driven profit warnings from Mothercare and Clinton Cards have fuelled nerves ahead of Thursday’s update from car parts and bicycle retailer Halfords. The group is seen as being susceptible as many of its 462 stores are out of town, which are likely to have proved hard for many customers to reach in December’s snow and ice.

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