M&S shares shift from frumpy to fabulous as pre-tax profits are up by 56%

M&S is performing strongly and has announced it will pay a dividend for the first time since the pandemic.

Marks & Spencer’s shares jumped by 9% on the news it is to pay a dividend for the first time since before Covid, say Oliver Ralph and Euan Healy in the Financial Times. The move comes as “bumper food sales” helped bring about a first-half result that exceeded expectations. Pre-tax profits hit £326m in the six months to 30 September, up by an annual 56%.

The firm says its success was due to “favourable market conditions” and competitors’ exits from the market. The shares have risen by 90% since January, enabling it to rejoin the FTSE 100 index and making it the blue-chip index’s second-best performer after Rolls-Royce.

Both the food and the clothing arms “look in their best shape for years”, says Alistair Osborne in The Times. Food, which has always done well, has been bolstered by “upgrades to 500 products”, as well as “a £30m spend on lowering prices across 200 products and locking them in on 150 more”.

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This has been rewarded with market-share gains, mainly from a “lacklustre Waitrose”, and an 11.7% rise in underlying sales. Like-for-like sales across the clothing section rose by 5.5%, while operating margins jumped from 9.8% to 12.1%, with M&S also benefiting from recent efforts “to wean the group off promotions”.

M&S is now seen as “the UK’s best retailer” for women’s clothes, says Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian. Once M&S clothes were seen as either “frumpy” or “at best inoffensive”. But now it is appealing to female customers “who have one eye on Vogue and another on value”.

Much of the credit is down to the director of womenswear, Maddy Evans, who has “helped the brand to develop a better understanding of who their shoppers are”, so it can fill a gap between “fashion-forward but pricey” retailers and those “associated with clothing less likely to last”. Moreover, M&S has had success in third-party brand partnerships, which bring in “a wider demographic”, and has also improved an “antiquated supply chain”.

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Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

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