Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rose Takes the Credit as M& S Slows Fall in Sales

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rose Takes the Credit as M& S Slows Fall in Sales

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON ENGLISH

THERE were tentative signs of recovery at Marks & Spencer today, which executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose insists is down to his own strategy rather than an improvement in conditions on the High Street.

"I'd be delighted if I could say the economy is improving, but it is not," Rose said. "The market is still extremely tough." The retailer was speaking as M& S unveiled a fall in like-for-like sales of 4.2% in the fourth quarter.

This was much better than some in the City were predicting, triggering a leap in the share price as analysts upgraded profit forecasts for the full year. The shares were up 311/4p to 2953/4p, leaving short-sellers who had built up a heavy position in the stock racing for cover.

The figures for the 13 weeks to 28 March compared with a 7.1% slump in the third quarter. At that point, some analysts were doubting Rose's vision for the company, and suggesting it was time for him to go.

Some investors remain concerned by his dual role as chairman and chief executive, and want to know more about who will succeed him.

He got a boost today when major shareholder Standard Life gave him its backing.

A spokesman said: "Standard Life is not calling for a change in role for Stuart Rose but looking to the senior independent directors and the other nonexec directors to make sure the current arrangement works effectively." Last year, M& S made a profit of [pounds sterling]1 billion for the first time in a decade -- this is likely to tumble to about [pounds sterling]600 million this year, raising questions about whether the company will be able to maintain the dividend.

Rose claims customers are impressed by the M& S offering, saying: "People understand what we are trying to do and customers know when they are getting a good deal. …

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