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Marks And Spencer Warn Of Poor Outlook

RETAIL giant Marks & Spencer posted better-than-expected profits today but warned of an "uncertain" economic outlook.

The company shrugged off the impact of the poor summer weather and a major store refurbishment programme to post underlying pre-tax profits of £451.8 million for the half-year to September 29, 11.5% ahead of last year and ahead of consensus City forecasts.

UK like-for-like sales across the group grew by just 1.6% in the first half in the tough trading conditions.

Chief executive Stuart Rose, who has overseen a recovery in fortunes at the retailer, said: "Whilst the short-term economic outlook remains uncertain, the actions we have taken to reposition and revitalise M&S over the last three years put us in a good position to continue to outperform."

The firm reported like-for-like sales of 1.2% in the period between July and September - representing a slowdown from the 2% sales growth seen in the first quarter of the year - but M&S put this down to the "significant disruption" from its refurbishment plans as well as the tougher retailing environment.

M&S has relaunched flagship stores in Belfast, Cheshunt, Edinburgh, Lisburn and London Colney in the past six weeks and the chain is hoping to have 70% of stores revamped in time for the crucial Christmas season.

The group has also unveiled Hollywood star Antonio Banderas to front a new advertising campaign in the approach to the busiest trading period of the year.

During the first half, an expansion of the firm's Autograph clothing range helped lift general merchandising 2.3% on a like-for-like basis. Strong-selling menswear, womenswear and lingerie also helped the retailer lift its clothing market share to 11%.

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