M&S slides to first loss as coronavirus hammers clothing sales

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Britain’s Marks & Spencer MKS.L reported the first loss in its 94 years as a publicly listed company after clothing sales were hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the best known names in UK retail said on Wednesday that it made a pretax loss before one-off items of 17.4 million pounds in the 26 weeks to Sept. 26 – its first loss since listing its shares on the stock market in 1926.

The outcome was ahead of analysts’ average forecast of a 59 million pound loss and compared with a profit of 176 million pounds in the same period last year.

Clothing and home sales fell 21.3% in the second quarter after a first-quarter decline of 61.5%, damaged by a three-month coronavirus lockdown in the spring and the impact of the virus on customer demand.

All clothing retailers have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday Primark reported a 63% fall in annual profit and Next NXT.L last week forecast a 50% decline.

M&S reported first-half food sales up 2.7% on a like-for-like basis, with weak performances from stores in city centres and transport hubs because of the government’s work-from-home directive, offset by a better showing from suburban stores.

The business has also benefited from a tie-up with Ocado OCDO.L, giving the M&S food operation an online presence for the first time.

M&S, the shares of which have fallen 57% this year, said that trading in the first four weeks of the second half continued at similar rates to the end of the second quarter, with clothing and homeware revenue down 21.5%, food revenue up 3% and international revenue up 7.4%.

The group cautioned that England’s new four-week lockdown, beginning on Thursday, will hit clothing and homeware store sales and profit.

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