Updates from M&S, Morrisons and Tesco

The FTSE 100 saw a -0.50% slip on Wednesday, ending the day at 6,721, almost 34 points down. Aberdeen Asset Management took the day's biggest plunge, down -3.60% to 473.3p while Tate & Lyle slipped -3.44% to 773p. RSA Insurance was the day's biggest riser, up +3.0% to 100.7p.

The Dow Jones also took a hit, down -0.41% to 16,462. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
This morning it's retail hell - at least if you look at some of the numbers. Let's start with troubled M&S first. M&S sees general merchandise sales dip 2.1% in the three months till the end of December, despite much vaunted new ranges. This is a sales fall for a 10th consecutive quarter.

The news isn't completely terrible. Overall like-for-like group sales inched 0.2% higher for the third quarter and the food arm climbed 1.6%; online sales are also strong. However chief exec Marc Bolland did not disguise some disappointment on the numbers.

"This," says Bolland, "has been a challenging quarter for the general merchandise market, with unseasonal conditions and higher than ever levels of discounting. Against this backdrop, we held our full price trading stance for much of the quarter."

Next up on the retail block, Tesco. Tesco sees like-for-like UK sales tumble 2.4% in the six weeks to 4 January. International sales also took a hit, down 0.7% with sales in Asia particularly under pressure. The numbers are additionally disappointing as they come at the bottom end of market forecasts.

Total sales in Europe declined by 0.8% at constant exchange rates, but with better like-for-like sales performance than the third quarter including positive like-for-like sales growth in Poland and Hungary.

"These results," says chief exec Philip Clarke, "were driven primarily by a weaker grocery market, and also reflect the impact of a tougher comparative." However Tesco shareholders may feel impatient when looking at Sainsbury's, which reported its 36th consecutive quarter of growth yesterday.

Finally, we finish with the grimmest performer, Morrisons. The UK's fourth biggest retailer saw like-for-like sales tumble 5.6% for the six weeks to 5 January, though this fall widens to 7.1% if fuel is included. Morrisons has issued a profits warning.

Morrisons says its full-year underlying profit performance is likely to come in at the lower range of market expectations, currently estimated at £783m to £853m. It also said it continued to suffer weak sales because of a lack of an online sales operation.

"The Christmas period," it said, "has been very challenging with a slowdown in market growth. Hard pressed consumers elected to economise and managed their budgets very tightly, buying less and shopping selectively across a range of formats and retailers."

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