Marks And Spencer Profits Lowest For Four Years After Clothing Sales Slump

Marks & Spencer's annual profits fell to their lowest level in four years today after clothing sales slumped.

Underlying pre-tax profits for 2012/13 were £665.2 million, a fall of 6% on a year earlier and well below City forecasts for £710 million at the beginning of the financial year.

It is also a far-cry from the retailer's heyday in 2008 when it made more than £1 billion.

The results mean chief executive Marc Bolland remains under pressure to turn around the high street stalwart, particularly in the wake of an executive reshuffle and the launch of a new clothing range last week.

Like-for-like UK sales fell by 1% with general merchandise down 4.1% though food did better, improving by 1.7%. Overall group sales were up 1.3%, buoyed by international takings.

Mr Bolland, who took charge of the retailer in 2010, recently reshuffled his team amid an alarming slide in clothing.

Sales from the division were down 2.4% in the year but had been as much as 5% lower at the start of the period until the company took "decisive action".

It's a far cry from Marks and Spencer's 2008 heydey

The company said the new fashion team, led by John Dixon, the head of general merchandise brought over from M&S Food, and style director Belinda Earl, the former Debenhams and Jaeger boss, was "reinvigorating" its ranges.

Today it announced yet another change at the top, as Steven Sharp, executive director of marketing, retired after nine years to be replaced by Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, formerly of Estee Lauder.

M&S said: "The improvement in product will take time to come through, but our customers will start to see the benefits of the changes from this summer."

Last week's launch of the retailer's new fashion range, available in stores from this summer, is being seen as the litmus test of the new regime and a key moment in Mr Bolland's attempts to turn around the fortunes of M&S.

The company said it was two years into a three-year plan to turn it into a "truly international, multi-channel retailer". Online sales were up 16.6% and now account for 13% of general merchandise takings.

Announcing today's results, Mr Bolland said M&S had made "strong progress" in some areas while chairman Robert Swannell said the retailer was "building longer term foundations".

M&S said it was targeting profit improvements for 2013/14 though these would be affected by the costs of web development and the recent opening of a vast new distribution centre at Castle Donington.

It said it had been working to "address the legacy of under-investment in infrastructure and transform the business for the future".

But the company, which spent £830 million on capital expenditure in 2012/13, said it was cutting its outlay back to £775 million for the current period - down from expectations of £850 million. It should then fall to an annual level of £550 million.

M&S also said its sales had been affected by the squeeze on household conditions as well as unseasonable weather. But revenues were up from £8.87 billion to £8.95 billion.

Shares were up nearly 2% on the results. The profits fall had been widely expected by markets.

Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said there remained a degree of caution about the scope for improvement, but added: "M&S is a valuable brand with upside to come."

Mr Bolland told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's been not good enough but still we have got the largest business in the UK by far."

He said quality "has certainly been good and better than competitors", but the retailer was now aiming "to bring something that really delights and surprises the customer so we can do better than we have done before".

"Secondly, it's about style. We can bring improved style, more trends to customers than we have done so far and where we have done that in our womenswear it has really helped."