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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Marks and Spencer is hoping its recovery will start with a good Christmas"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 11:11 GMT
M&S profits slump
Marks and Spencer is the UK's flagship retailer
Marks and Spencer is the UK's flagship retailer
Profits and sales continue to slump at the UK's leading high street retailer Marks and Spencer.

In the first half of the year, profits at M&S fell to 183.4m compared to 192.8m last time. Sales for the whole period were unchanged at about 3.8bn - but fell sharply during the past few weeks.

The company is closing six UK stores, and reducing the size of two more, at the cost of 44m - but it says there will be no redundancies.

Marks and Spencer chairman and chief executive Luc Vandevelde said there were "no quick fixes" as sales continued to fall, and that the company "had lost sight of some of the basics of retailing."

But he promised that there would be a revival by the crucial Christmas selling season, and said he would resign if he had not been able to turn the company around within another year.

In the five weeks to 4 November, sales were down 8.4% on a like-for-like basis, with general merchandise (excluding food) down 12.4%.

The six satellite stores being closed are at Bristol, Bromley, Edinburgh, Leeds, Norwich and Watford - but main stores in each area are being upgraded.

Shares collapse

In opening trading, Marks and Spencer shares lost a further 3.5p to 181.5p, following heavy falls on Monday.

In an attempt to boost the company's ailing share price, which has reached a ten-year low, M&S said it might begin a share repurchase scheme to buy up to 10% of its shares back.

And it maintained its interim dividend at 3.7p.

Mr Vandevelde said his main job was to "rebuild shareholder value" which has seen M&S underperform a depressed retail sector by 60%.

But he admitted that the he was surprised at the difficulties of the taks.

"I must admit this job has turned out to be a bit more difficult than I thought, otherwise I wouldn't be here filling three jobs," he said.

Rebranding

But the company - which also lost its chief executive Peter Salsbury in September - needs to succeed in its attempt to rebrand its core clothing business if it is to regain its former role.

Its margins - once the highest in UK retailing - have been falling, and it has been forced to outsource much of its clothing production outside the UK to cut costs.

The outsourcing of clothing is expected to generate around 400m annually in savings by 2002, but it has enraged UK clothing unions who say that many of their members' jobs have been put at risk.

And the company, which suffered large losses two years ago when it bought too many clothes in advance at the beginning of the season, now plans to buy less than half its clothing stock in advance.

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15 Oct 00 | Business
M&S may close stores
12 Oct 00 | Business
M&S woes grow
19 Jul 00 | Business
M&S: We'll be good again
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