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Nervous investors ditching shares as M&S reports just 0.8pc rise in sales

Investors offloaded shares in Marks & Spencer (M&S) yesterday after the retailer failed to deliver financial magic and sparkle.

M&S said its British like-for-like sales rose just 0.8pc in its fiscal third quarter that ran to December 26. That missed some analysts' targets, and comments by executive chairman and chief executive Stuart Rose that the outlook in 2010 remained challenging added to investor nervousness.

Shares in the company shed as much as 5.8pc during the day in a significant sell-off that came despite what had been a relatively solid Christmas trading period for the group.

The slide mirrored the impact on fashion retailer Next's shares on Tuesday, when it also reported decent festive sales but warned on trading momentum for the coming months.

Marks & Spencer said total British sales were 3pc higher during the quarter and that group sales were up 2.6pc. International sales, which included operations in Ireland, were 6pc higher.

Mr Rose said the retailer had its "biggest ever" Christmas fortnight of food sales, with record one-day turnover in the category of more than £50m (€55.5m) on December 23. M&S sold more than 36 million mince pies, one million bottles of champagne and more than eight million jumpers and cardigans in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.

The chain's guidance on gross margin, operating costs and capital expenditure for the current financial year remained unchanged.

The quarterly results excluded December 27, the first day of the company's post-Christmas sales. That trading day had been included in last year's results, and this year would have added 1 percentage point to British like-for-like sales. That skewed figure led UBS to say the third-quarter performance this year was better than expected, while Morgan Stanley claimed it was below expectations.

Mr Rose also said he does not expect the new chief executive of M&S, Marc Bolland, to start for about another two months. Mr Bolland, who is boss at supermarket chain William Morrison, still has to finalise his departure date from the company.

Irish Independent