M&S sees first profits rise in four years

Up 6.1% to £661 million thanks to strong final quarter

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Marks & Spencer has reported its first rise in profits for four years as they lifted by 6.1% to £661.2 million.

The increase in underlying pre-tax profits comes despite a year in which the retailer admitted it missed expectations for its struggling general merchandise division, including clothing.

However the final quarter of the year saw the division show signs of a turnaround after it posted a rise in like-for-like sales following a string of declines.

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Chief executive Marc Bolland said: "We are transforming M&S into a stronger, more agile business - putting the right infrastructure, capabilities and talent in place to drive our strategic priorities."

General merchandise like-for-like sales fell by 3.1% for the year to March 28 but there was a strong improvement in the profit margin, the group said.

Mr Bolland said: "While sales performance was below our expectations, we returned to growth in the fourth quarter."

Costs and capital investment were controlled tightly, he added.

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Mr Bolland said the M&S food division had "an outstanding year in a difficult market".

M&S had suffered 14 consecutive quarters of falling sales in general merchandise before efforts to improve its fashion offer appeared to start paying off in recent months, as sales lifted by 0.7% in the most recent period.

Items such a much-talked about 1970s-style suede skirt worn by TV presenter and model Alexa Chung have helped improve the image of Marks's clothing range.

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