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Marks & Spencer hit by plunging clothing and home sales in first half as profits down by 17%

Marks & Spencer posted a 7.8% fall in clothing and home sales in the half year to September 2019. Credit: PA

Marks & Spencer said it is rapidly pushing ahead with its turnaround plan after half-year sales slumped during a “challenging” period for its clothing and homeware business.

The high street retailer saw sales slide 2.1% to £4.86 million for the six months to September 28.

The company hailed the performance of its food business, which grew sales, but saw clothing and home sales dive on the back of buying and supply chain issues.

Clothing and homeware plunged 7.8% as like-for-like sales dropped 5.5% on the back of issues around product availability.

M&S said it had “poor availability on the most popular sizes and too much stock and markdown” on its clothing lines.

It added that it saw a sales uplift in October after taking action to improve availability and has had an “encouraging” relaunch of its Per Una sub-brand.

M&S also reported weaker-than-expected online sales, as digital revenues jumped just 0.2% despite an 8% increase in website traffic.

The store said it has poor availability on the most popular sizes. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, like-for-like food sales increased by 0.9% driven by an acceleration in the second quarter.

The company said it has benefited from price reductions on a range of core food products and almost halved its number of promotions.

Nevertheless, this was not enough to stem falling profitability, as trading profits slid 17% to £176.5 million during the half-year.

M&S said it has closed 17 stores as part of its turnaround plan which it said will see the closure of 100 stores across the UK.

It said it made £75 million in cost savings during the period as a result.

The company also reduced its dividend by 40% to 3.9p, as it had previously indicated would happen as a result of the transformation programme.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said the timing of the general election has not yet had any impact. Credit: PA

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Our transformation plan is now running at a pace and scale not seen before at Marks & Spencer.

“For the first time we are beginning to see the potential from the far-reaching changes we are making.”

Mr Rowe added that the timing of the December General Election had not yet had any impact on trading but it is a period of “constant volatility”.

He said: “This is not specific to a General Election, but anything that distracts consumers at this time is not good for retailers.”

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said: “By its own admission, the effort to shake up clothing and home has fallen behind. The string of high-level departures points to the trouble.

“Steve Rowe has taken over directly and binned senior staff. It’s never a great plan for a CEO to go down this route, but progress was too slow.”

During the period, M&S also completed its £750 million joint venture deal with Ocado Retail and said plans for M&S supply have been “progressing well”.