A minus in front of a sales number is never welcome especially, as in the case of Marks & Spencer, following indications of a return to form.

A minus in front of a sales number is never welcome especially, as in the case of Marks & Spencer, following earlier indications of a long-awaited return to stronger form.

However, unlike on some previous occasions, it looks as if Marks &Spencer’s general merchandise like-for-like slip in the first quarter is more reflective of the market than the retailer.

In contrast with the woes over its website relaunch last year, or fashion faux pas of the past, M&S was affected by developments in the wider industry – notably a promotional June following a cool May.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said that performance as M&S went into the first quarter was not dissimilar to that the previous quarter, when general merchandise returned to like-for-like growth.

He maintained that the retailer had outperformed, citing BDO’s research showing the worst June for retailers in almost 10 years.

Bolland reiterated a point he’s made before: that there is limited sales growth potential in general merchandise at the moment but a great margin opportunity.

Margin guidance remained unchanged and the City, while disappointed by the showing in general merchandise, seemed happy with that.