In Depth

Can best M&S results for two years save boss Marc Bolland?

'Jekyll and Hyde' retailer buoyed by food sales but analysts warn that CEO's 'judgement day' will come

Marks and Spencer

MARKS & SPENCER posted its best performance for two years in the first quarter of 2013, defying analysts who had predicted a slump and easing pressure on the firm's beleaguered chief executive Marc Bolland.

While sales in the company's clothing-dominated general merchandising section fell for the seventh quarter in a row, by 3.8 per cent, the decline was offset by a 4 per cent increase in sales of food in the run-up to Easter. This led to an overall increase of 0.6 per cent in like-for-like sales.

The contrast in each division's success led the Daily Telegraph to describe the chain as having a "Jekyll and Hyde personality". However, it points out that food sales were boosted last quarter because "it included New Year's Eve and Easter, when the same quarter in 2012 did not".

While the better-than-expected results will ease some pressure on the company's chief executive Marc Bolland, the Financial Times says shareholders have serious concerns about the retailer's performance.

Ahead of today's results, one shareholder said if the company was still "struggling" ahead of its annual general meeting this summer then "there might be a big protest vote that would put a lot of pressure on the chief executive". M&S is expected to report a loss in annual profits for the second year in a row in May but shares in the business rose immediately after the results were posted today.

Bolland has previously urged investors to wait for the improved autumn/winter 2013 collection to emerge, after he brought in former Jaeger boss Belinda Earl to help revive the womenswear department.

James McGregor, director of the consultancy Retail Remedy told The Guardian that "judgement day" for Bolland will not come until the end of the year. "The buying decisions of the new general merchandise team cannot be assessed until autumn-winter 2013, and the success of the collections they put in store will either save the chief executive or be the final nail in his coffin."

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