Updates from M&S, Balfour Beatty and Big Yellow Group

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Markets edged lower again yesterday. The FTSE 100 finished trading at 5,627 points, down -0.62% overall. The biggest loser was IMI, down -3.34% with Ashmore Group following behind with a -3.34% drop.

In Asia overnight, stocks slid further downhill following disappointing Chinese trade numbers. Both the Hang Seng and Nikkei slipped -0.3%.

We start with weaker and wetter sales from Marks & Spencer. Like-for-like sales slipped -2.8% in the UK between April and June; total group sales tumbled -0.7%. Non-food sales includes clothing fell -6.8% - a dramatic fall. The worst quarterly sales drop overall since the third quarter of 2008/09.

M&S claims the clothing market continues to be "highly promotional" especially in womenswear, "in part due to unseasonal weather conditions. This affected categories such as casual tops, which, given our high market share, are key performance drivers at this time of year." But like-for-like sales at the UK food business rose 0.6%.

"While we expect the short term trading outlook to continue to be challenging," says M&S, "we are making strong progress against our goal of becoming an international, multi-channel retailer." M&S says Kate Bostock, formerly head of womenswear, is to quit.

Next, a trading update from infrastructure operator Balfour Beatty. No major change in trading conditions since its Q1 interim statement in May. The order book remains stable at £15 billion and overall Group trading performance is consistent with expectations.

"We have," says Balfour Beatty in a statement, "continued to implement our PPP asset disposal programme, achieving a gain £10 million higher than originally expected from our planned disposals for the year. This will however, be offset in the Group's overall result by cost increases in a small number of contracts in the Utilities sector."

That means Support Services profitability will be further skewed to the second half of the year.

Lastly, an interim from storage player Big Yellow Group. Growth continues to be driven by London and the South East. Big Yellow remains "engaged" with the government and HMRC on the proposed introduction of VAT on self storage from 1 October 2012.

"HM Treasury is pressing ahead with plans to introduce VAT and we expect the implementation to be confirmed following approval of the Finance Bill in Parliament later this month," the company says. "We have received a legal opinion from a leading tax Counsel that there may be grounds to challenge the decision, and we are currently considering our legal options."

Occupancy growth in the quarter across all 66 stores was 183,000 sq ft (2011: 162,000 sq ft); 122,000 sq ft of this growth was in the 54 wholly owned stores (2011: 105,000 sq ft). Move-ins in the like-for-like wholly owned stores were up 19% on the quarter to 30 June 2011, claims Big Yellow.

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