While Marks & Spencer’s terrible performance in food grabbed the headlines on Wednesday, it was the general retailers that got a battering, as Sir Stuart Rose warned the market was at its toughest since the early 1990s.

M&S’s shares fell more than 23 per cent in early trading on Wednesday as it reported a 5.3 per cent fall in like-for-likes, with general merchandise down 6.2 per cent and food down 4.5 per cent. Total UK sales were down 0.5 per cent. Sell, said Seymour Pierce analyst Freddie George. “Our major concern is that not only have sales been weak, but also gross margins.”

Next, whose shares fell 7 per cent and Debenhams, down more than 8 per cent, were among the victims, as fears rose over the overall health of the market. Panmure Gordon downgraded Next from hold to sell after the news about M&S, just two days after upgrading it.

Carpets king Lord Harris was also gloomy about the outlook, despite Carpetright recording a 7.6 per cent increase in full-year underlying pre-tax profit to£62.1 million. Total sales were up 9.6 per cent to£521 million, but UK and Ireland like-for-likes were down 2.7 per cent.

Harris warned that “the next year will be one of the most difficult I have seen”. Reduce, said Numis, warning that “one only has to look at the consumer confidence indices and the direction of housing transactions to see that the outlook for Carpetright is bleak”.

One retailer that continued to shine amid the gloom is Asos, which reported underlying profits more than doubled to£8.2 million and total sales up 90 per cent to£81 million. It has begun the new financial year strongly, with sales up 95 per cent.

Buy, advised Landsbanki, which said the shift of spend towards online would help further growth and that the launch of a discount site in autumn “looks a smart move in light of dwindling consumer confidence”.

Kingfisher entertained analysts at the end of last week, but bullish noises on market share growth at the group weren’t enough to win over Pali International analyst Nick Bubb, who cut his target price to 95p, warning that “market share gains are never enough to stop a business falling victim to an early 1990s-type recession”.

Life goes from bad to worse for department store tiddler Beales, which reported a 6.4 per cent like-for-like fall in its first half. Cost reduction meant profits were static, but the company expects no improvement in sales in the second half.