Primark has defied the downturn in the fashion market to post strong growth in total sales.

Sales growth accelerated to 15% in the 16 weeks to 25 June, taking the increase to 13% for the first three quarters of the year, parent company Associated British Foods revealed this morning.

ABF said the sales growth was driven by both space growth and like-for-like improvements, and that the UK and Ireland achieved like-for-like growth despite the low level of consumer demand, although it did not specify a figure.

Panmure Gordon analyst Graham Jones estimated that the like-for-like performance had held steady at around 3%, and upped his rating on ABF shares to a buy.

The company said that operating margins in the second half had fallen owing to higher input prices and Primark absorbing the VAT rise in the UK.

Six new stores have opened since the half-year - three in the UK, two in Portugal and one in Spain. The company now trades from 7.1m sq ft of space in 220 stores, and in September will open a 46,000 sq ft shop in Westfield Stratford.

ABF said profits for the full year are set to remain in line with expectations.