As Christmas nears, general retailers were down against the market as store chiefs and investors alike wait with bated breath to see how festive trading turns out.

One stock in demand was online fashion specialist Asos. The AIM-listed retailer’s shares reached an all-time high of 501p as US investors took an interest in the stock. Sentiment towards Asos is also thought to have been lifted by the strong performance of shares in Italian fashion etailer Yoox, which listed in Milan earlier this month.

Anglo-French electricals group Kesa, owner of UK chain Comet, was static in advance of Wednesday’s interims. In the event the retailer beat expectations and returned to the black after pre-tax profits slid into the red this time last year.

Hold, advised Shore Capital, which was encouraged by improving second-quarter trends in France and the UK and expects the full-year consensus forecast to move to midway between £70m and £80m.

Singer, advising buy, said: “These results are ahead of expectations, especially in relation to France, cashflow and net cash.”

Noble has a negative stance on entertainment group HMV, which posted interims last week. The broker noted: “In a year when the withdrawal of Woolworths and Zavvi from the market should arguably have led to more surprises on the upside from HMV, the difficult computer games and books market, as well as start-up problems with the Waterstone’s books hub, have restrained momentum.” Noble fears “this year could mark the peak in EBIT margins”. However, Investec said HMV’s results met expectations and maintained its buy advice. Oriel described the results as “a curate’s egg” and said the shares are a weak hold.

Fashion and furniture retailer Laura Ashley reported total UK retail sales up 8.8% in the 19 weeks to December 12, when like-for-likes rose 4.9%. Full-year trading will meet management expectations. House broker Numis said Laura Ashley is well placed for Christmas and raised its recommendation from hold to add.

Sainsbury’s convenience boss Dido Harding is jumping ship to Carphone Warehouse. She will become chief executive of broadband business Talk Talk, which will be demerged from Carphone’s retail arm next year.

Panmure reiterated its buy recommendation on Marks & Spencer following a company meeting. The broker said: “We think that the shares deserve a higher premium to peers than they are currently on given the company’s market-leading position in clothing, its growth potential internationally and in the multichannel model, and potential upside from a new chief executive.”

After a year in which retail shares outperformed the market, attention will turn next to the all-important January trading updates in 2010.