SHARES in Marks & Spencer have surged after it said that its like-for-like sales in the UK rose 0.6pc during the first quarter of the year – faster than had been anticipated by investors.
The department store operator – Britain's biggest – said that the rate of sales growth in the quarter was the fastest in nearly two years. It was achieved on the back of discounts on clothing and buoyed by food sales.
M&S said that that like-for-like food sales in the quarter jumped 4pc, with an early Easter helping to boost the figure. That was much higher than the 2.5pc gain analysts had been expecting.
The retailer benefited from its avoidance of the horse-meat scandal that has engulfed larger rivals, such as Tesco, and its popularity as a destination retailer for special occasions such as Easter.
General merchandise sales fell 3.8pc. That was better than the 4pc decline that had been anticipated.
"We are working hard on improving our performance in general merchandise, and despite difficult trading conditions we made progress in our operational execution," said chief executive Marc Bolland.
"We can do better than this in general merchandise," Mr Bolland added. The company bought more items that responded to "key trends", he said. He is placing his faith in a new UK management team to revive fortunes in clothing.
The company added that despite macro-economic issues in "some of the legacy markets", its performance in European operations, which includes Ireland, improved during the quarter.
M&S has previously said that its Irish arm was particularly hit hard by a dire domestic economic situation.
Shares in M&S closed up 4.3pc in London. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)