General retailers’ shares swung wildly last week and ended up underperforming the market although food stocks, helped by better than expected Sainsbury’s results, ticked up.

Arden analyst Nick Bubb described last week as “very volatile”, bringing both the biggest one-day rise in five months and the steepest fall in six. He was encouraged by “better trading vibes” from retailers such as Wickes-owner Travis Perkins and John Lewis and said: “We still see some short-term value in the much-maligned general retail sector.”

Nervy investors will scour sector bellwether Marks & Spencer’s results next week for clues on the sector and its prospects as well as insight on the high street leader. Last week it unveiled an £800m plan to address its defined benefit pension scheme deficit. UBS, which has a neutral stance on M&S, said the cash impact was lower than expected, reducing the chances of an equity issue being necessary.

The retailer also showed off its new season’s lines. Singer, which rates M&S fair value, said that “management appeared upbeat about the progress being made” and observed: “This might support the view that share gains from the fourth quarter into spring are sustainable.”

Ambrian was cautious about making judgements based on a single show but was optimistic about prospects for profit recovery. The broker maintained: “Just about every retail business that exists today can have the charge that if it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t invent it levelled at it. And so is the case with M&S. But it does exist, in nearly 15 million sq ft across the UK, has an iconic brand and many opportunities as well as, of course, problems.”

A quarterly fall in like-for-likes at Asda made Oriel cautious on food retailers, on which it has an underweight stance. “Forecast momentum is negative in this sector and we would reduce Sainsbury’s and Morrisons,” the broker said. “Tesco is the best of a bad bunch.”

Oriel downgraded from hold to reduce Kesa after the Anglo-French electricals group’s update. Oriel was disappointed by deteriorating trading in France and no signs of improvement at UK chain Comet.

The broker prefers Kesa’s arch-rival DSGi and said: “Both companies operate in some common markets so should be viewed similarly, but the strategies are quite divergent. DSGi is on the offensive and making huge strides in terms of market share gains, which will also support an improving profit profile.”

Card specialist Clinton reported a 1.7% fall in like-for-likes, excluding VAT, in the 13 weeks to May 13.

Department store Liberty was embroiled in a row with investor Pyrrho over its proposed sale and the argy-bargy continued as Retail Week went to press.

Next week brings the latest Kantar grocery data and JJB Sports’ final results.