Billion-Pound M&S Profits; but Future Trends Difficult to Predict, Says Rose IN ASSOCIATION WITH Rensburg Sheppards Investment Management

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Byline: BY ALISTAIR HOUGHTON Daily Post Business Staff

MARKS & Spencer's annual profits topped pounds 1bn for the first time in a decade yesterday.

The profits of just over pounds 1bn for the year to March 29 were 4.3% ahead of last year, but came alongside a 1.7% fall in like for like sales during the final three months of the year - the second successive quarter of sales declines after a disappointing Christmas.

Chief executive Sir Stuart Rose said he expected market conditions "to remain difficult for the foreseeable future".

M&S paid out a record pounds 91m in bonuses to its 75,000 staff last year but has slashed the payout this time after it failed to hit internal targets.

The group will, however, pay out pounds 12.8m to its 62,000 customer assistants, while a spokesman added that high-performing head office teams could share in a pounds 4m bonus pot.

Yesterday's results represent M & S's best performance since 1997/98 and exceeded market forecasts of pounds 989m. The company now has more than 21m customers shopping in its store every week, 400,000 ahead of the previous year.

M&S is to embark on a multimillion pound refurbishment of its Liverpool city centre store later this year. It will move out of its current home in Church Street for around two years while the work is carried out, but it won't be going far - just next door.

Just weeks after John Lewis vacates its home in the former George Henry Lee building to move to Liverpool One, Marks and Spencer will move in.

Sir Stuart - who has led the turnaround of the business since 2004 - added that trading since the end of March had been "mixed", with sales suffering in April's downpours before recovering with better weather earlier this month.

The M&S chief also remains cautious over consumer sentiment, although the group still intends to spend up to pounds 900m on its stores this year.

There were fears in the City over M&S's clothes sales after poor figures from rival Next, but the group cut prices to protect market share as well as extended the range of its Autograph collection. …