Marks and Spencer releases Christmas sales figures early after leak

Marks and Spencer store, Westfield
Image caption M&S is the UK's largest clothing retailer

Marks and Spencer has reported a drop in sales, after releasing its Christmas trading statement early following a leak.

Like-for-like UK sales, which exclude new store openings, in the 13 weeks to 29 December fell 1.8% on the same period a year earlier.

On a like-for-like basis, food sales rose 0.3% but sales of general merchandise dropped 3.8%.

M&S's trading statement had been expected on Thursday morning.

But Sky News began reporting the figures on Wednesday evening.

M&S chief executive Marc Bolland told BBC business editor Robert Peston that he had been advised by the company's lawyers, brokers and PR advisers that he should put the results out this evening, almost 12 hours early.

He said they were concerned about how they would answer media enquiries on the back of the leak to Sky, in the absence of putting out a full statement.

In the statement, Mr Bolland said: "Our food business has performed very well with record sales over the key Christmas trading period.

"Our general merchandise performance is not yet satisfactory but we are confident that the steps being taken by the new management team will address this."

While clothing sales were poor, our business editor said: "These figures do not look like a profit warning because M&S has said that its profit margins are improving."

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