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Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
M&S disputes sales slump
M&S chairman Luc Vandevelde with chief executive Peter Salsbury
Chairman and chief executive have more work to do
Retailer Marks & Spencer has played down the significance of leaked figures suggesting its clothing sales are continuing to tumble.

The long time bastion of the British high street has suffered a torrid fall from glory in the past two years.

Its profits have been halved in two years, from more than 1bn to a shade over 500m, while its share price has fallen even more dramatically, from 650p at the end of 1997 to 209p now, its lowest level since 1990.

A host of initiatives have been set in train by chairman Luc Vandevelde, since his appointment in February, but they have yet to convince disillusioned investors.

Not a fair comparison

According to the UK's Mail on Sunday, these measures have also had little effect on clothing sales so far, citing leaked figures showing a 6% fall in clothing sales at M&S in the week ending 19 August.

The figures came just a few days after reports that the first three 'new concept' stores had recorded huge increases in sales.

Marks and Spencer new bag
Bags reflect the new look
They seem sure to put further pressure on M&S shares when trading resumes on Tuesday after the Bank Holiday weekend.

Marks & Spencer spokeswoman Cheryl Kuczynski said that the firm could neither confirm nor deny the figures.

But she did say that it was not possible to use any one week's sales figures to get an accurate picture of general trading.

General slump

The week in question was even less of a fair comparison because it included the switch from summer to autumn ranges this year, she said.

The figures would be further distorted because in 1999 the summer sale was still on, she said.

The most recent official sales figures came early in July at the chain's annual general meeting, when Mr Vandevelde said sales of non-food merchandise were running 3% higher than in 1999.

The next scheduled sales figures are due to be published in November, to cover the six months from April to the end of September.

A whole raft of UK retailers have seen their profits tumble in the past two years, with Marks & Spencer joining the likes of Top Shop owner Arcadia, C&A and Moss Bros as the biggest name casualties.

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