RPT-Marks & Spencer's Q4 sales miss forecasts

LONDON, April 17 Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:46am EDT

LONDON, April 17 (Reuters) - (Repeats with no changes to text)

Bellwether British retailer Marks & Spencer missed forecasts for underlying fourth quarter sales, with growth in food sales failing to offset a weaker outcome in general merchandise.

The UK's biggest clothing retailer, which also sells homewares and upmarket foods, said on Tuesday it would, however, meet expectations for 2011/12 profit.

M&S said sales at stores open over a year fell 0.7 percent in the 13 weeks to March 31, its fiscal fourth quarter.

That compared with analyst forecasts of a rise of 0.4-1.6 percent, with a consensus of 0.8 percent, according to a company poll of 10, and a third quarter rise of 0.5 percent excluding VAT sales tax

The fourth quarter outcome included a 2.8 percent fall in general merchandise like-for-like sales and a 1.0 percent rise in food sales, against consensus forecasts of increases of 0.2 percent and 1.6 percent respectively.

Total group sales rose 0.8 percent.

Many UK retailers are still struggling as consumers grapple with inflation, muted wage growth and government austerity measures, and worry about job security and a stagnant housing market.

M&S has, however, performed better than most as its older and more affluent customers have been less impacted by the economic downturn.

Shares in the 128-year-old group, which have increased by 17 percent over the last three months, closed Monday at 370 pence, valuing the business at 5.94 billion pounds ($9.41 billion).

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