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M&S to close 60 UK clothes stores as profits fall and pension charges bite

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
M&S is to close 60 UK clothing and home stores in the next five years as it focuses on expanding its food offering.

Posting its half year results to 1 October 2016, the retail giant announced an 88% fall in statutory profit before tax from £216m a year earlier to £25.1m.

Much of the deep decline was due to M&S closing its defined benefit pension scheme to future accrual, effective from 2 April 2017, which resulted in a one-off charge of £127m.

Like-for-like food sales were down 0.9% but the loss was greater in the clothing and home department with a 5.9% decline.

In a bid to “improve the quality and productivity” of its Clothing & Home space by trading from “fewer, better locations”, it is set to fully close 30 UK ‘full line’ clothing and food stores while a further 30 clothes stores will be transformed into Simply Food stores in the next five years.

It did not say which UK stores or locations are set to close, but overseas, M&S proposes to close all of its 53 stores in 10 loss-making markets, including France, China and Belgium.

The retailer is looking to expand its food business with over 200 new stores by the end 2018/19.

Steve Rowe, M&S chief executive since April 2016, said: “In May, we laid out a number of questions which we would answer as part of our strategic review. We committed to creating a simpler business with customers at its heart, and taking action to start to recover our Clothing & Home business and continue to grow in Food.

“Over the next five years we will transform our UK estate with c.60 fewer Clothing & Home stores, whilst continuing to increase the number of our Simply Food stores. These are tough decisions, but vital to building a future M&S that is simpler, more relevant, multi-channel and focused on delivering sustainable returns.”

‘Food retail is no picnic’

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said this is Rowe’s first big step as M&S boss since taking up the role six months ago, and it looks like a bold one.

“Clothing is a tough game, but food retail is no picnic either, with Aldi and Lidl eating up market share, and Amazon lurking in the wings with its new grocery delivery service. However this is a market where M&S has shown it is able to consistently grow sales, and with premium products on the shelves it is more insulated from the discounters than the likes of Asda and Morrisons.”

However, he warns that with the all-important Christmas trading period just around the corner, M&S still has a long road ahead and it will take some time before we see if the changes “revitalise the ailing retailer”.

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