A January sales fillip, takeover talk and musical chairs in the boardroom helped buoy up general retailers over the week and they outperformed the All-share index.

The latest BRC data showed a like-for-like rise in January, but trading was stronger at the start of the month than at the end. Broker Peel Hunt took an optimistic view and said: “We expect the first quarter of 2011 to remain subdued, reflecting consumer concerns over the wider economic environment, although we believe the majority of retailers are well equipped to deal with it.”

Arden is cautious about general retailers over the short term but recommended “tucking away” companies such as Marks & Spencer and WHSmith.

M&S was one of the week’s share price winners after mounting an audacious raid on Tesco to poach the highly regarded Laura Wade-Gery to become executive director, multichannel ecommerce. Seymour Pierce, which rates M&S buy, said: “At M&S [chief executive Marc] Bolland is now starting to make his mark… we believe there are significant self-help opportunities.”

Shore Capital said the defection of Wade-Gery was “a real loss” for Tesco and expects “further whirls of the personnel merry-go-round” as new chief executive Phil Clarke takes over. But Shore retained its buy stance and said Tesco’s shares were “increasingly undervalued.”

In entertainment retail, HMV ticked up on break-up and bid speculation, while WHSmith snapped up 22 shops from bust value specialist British Bookshops & Stationers for £1m.

FinnCap, which rates WHSmith a buy, said the acquisition would probably not make much material difference in the short term but observed: “The deal serves as a reminder that there are ways that Smith’s can improve profitability without driving positive like-for-like sales growth.”

Following a blackout period while Blacks Leisure was in sale talks, house broker Singer cut its forecast for the current year from a loss of £5m to £6m. The broker said that Blacks’ management could now focus fully on its recovery programme but that there was still much work to be done, especially to improve sales densities.

Investec reiterated its buy advice on Dixons Retail, but cut its price target from 50p to 32p after the retailer’s tough Christmas. Investec said: “Together with a likely difficult trading environment in the first half of 2011, the shape of our revised forecasts effectively reins back the recovery path by a year.”

Bestseller increased its stake in Asos, which held an investor day last week. Numis said: “Asos is well on its way to becoming the global fashion destination, with huge latent demand offering considerable upside to our medium-term forecasts.”