Cold March set to chill M&S figures

The coldest March in 50 years is expected to add to clothing sales woes at Marks & Spencer when the retail giant reports its latest trading figures on Thursday.

Analysts fear the prolonged cold spell will have hit its already under-pressure clothing ranges by dampening demand for spring/summer ranges, with the high street bellwether set to notch its seventh quarter in a row of falling general merchandise sales. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said clothing and footwear retailers had endured a dire March, although food sales were up as families treated themselves over Easter and cold weather boosted the appetite for hearty meals, helping overall sales rise 1.9%.

M&S, which will report figures for its final quarter to the end of March, is predicted to reveal that general merchandise sales slumped by 4.5% - with some in the City expecting a fall of 6% - as a result of its poor clothing performance.

But the company's food sales are expected to grow by 3% as consumers continue to treat themselves and opt to eat in rather than dine out.

This would be a marked improvement on the 0.3% increase in food sales over its third quarter, with the group also set to benefit from the impact of the horse meat scandal on supermarket rivals.

However, its decent food sales have not been enough to offset the slump in general merchandise, which fell 3.8% in the 13 weeks to December 29, pushing overall like-for-like UK sales down 1.8%. That was a performance labelled "not yet satisfactory'' by chief executive Marc Bolland.

Amid mounting pressure to turn its fortunes around, Mr Bolland has drafted in former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl to revitalise the womenswear ranges, but in January admitted that the group needed more time to formulate its turnaround plan.

Analysts at Shore Capital said M&S is likely to have endured a "horrible'' fourth quarter in general merchandise. They said: "M&S ladieswear has been haemorrhaging market share for some time now and the fourth quarter update could make for pretty challenging reading for investors.''

The City expects overall annual group profits to fall for the second year in a row when M&S reports later this spring, with most analysts pencilling in a 7% drop to around £660 million.

High Street casualties
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Cold March set to chill M&S figures

Administrators sounded the death knell for Woolworths in December 2008, leading to store closures that left 27,000 people out of work. Since its collapse former Woolworths stores have become a blight in many town centres and more than 100 of the large stores still lay vacant in January 2012.

Loyal customers didn't have go without the family favourite store for long however as it reappeared online as in 2009, after Shop Direct Home Shopping bought out the Woolworths name.

The greetings cards specialist became the latest highstreet casualty in May with 8,000 jobs on the line when it was forced it into administration. Its biggest supplier, American Greetings, then bought Clintons out of administration and put the retailer through a rebrand including a new logo and complete in-store revamps.

Its contemporary format includes new fixtures and fittings and easier to navigate stores, and will be rolled out to all 400 UK stores at the cost of £16million. Bosses aim to bring the brand back to profit within two years.

Poor sales in the run up to Christmas was the final nail in the coffin for several struggling chains, including lingerie retailer La Senza, which went bust in January 2012 with 146 shops and 2,600 staff. Kuwaiti retailer Alshaya bought part of the business, which saved 60 shops and 1,000 staff.

La Senza has been struggling in a similar way to other specialist shops such as Game and Mothercare, which have been hit by cut-price competition at supermarkets and have no alternative products to help shoulder losses.

Stricken retailer Blacks Leisure, which employed 3,600 staff across 98 Blacks stores and 208 Millets stores, went into administration in Janurary 2012 after failing to find an outright buyer.

Soon after its stores were bought by sportswear firm JD Sports in pre-pack deal - an insolvency procedure which sees a company being sold immediately after it has entered administration – which saw most of Blacks' £36 million of debt wiped out.

Fashion chain Bonmarche, which was part of the Peacock Group, was sold in January when the group collapsed due to unsustainable debts, resulting in 1,400 job losses and 160 store closures. Private equity firm Sun European Partners bought 230 stores, which continue to trade with 2,400 staff.

Peacocks collapsed under a £740 million net debt mountain in January 2012 in the biggest retail failure since Woolworths. Despite being sold out of administration to Edinburgh Woollen Mill in a deal that saved 380 stores and 6,000 jobs, administrators from KPMG were forced to close 224 stores with immediate effect. This lead to 3,350 redundancies from stores and Peacocks head office in Cardiff.

The high street name continues trading as bosses work to stabilise the situation, yet a further blow was dealt this month with news that the firm's pension fund is in £15.8 million shortfall as a result of the collapse.

Game buckled under its £85m debt pile in March 2012 and was placed into administration after being unable to pay a £21m rent bill. Administrator PwC immediately closed 277 shops, with the loss of 2,000 jobs. Soon after, investment firm, OpCapita bought 333 Game stores, saving more than 3,000 jobs.

Game's demise followed a string of profit warnings and the failure of nervous suppliers, including leading names Electronic Arts and Nintendo, to go on providing the latest games, further damaging poor sales.

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