Making sense of the past seven days
The past few days have brought a flurry of trading statements, from retailers as diverse as Kingfisher and JJB Sports.

At the DIY giant's B&Q chain, like-for-like sales fell 2.4 per cent over 11 weeks - but Kingfisher's share price rose. Variety store group Woolworths suffered a 7.7 per cent comparable sales fall over 25 weeks, while its shares also climbed.

Meanwhile, a 42.1 per cent hike in revenues at Carphone Warehouse was rewarded by a share price fall, as was a like-for-like advance of 9 per cent at JJB.

What's going on? Setting aside Carphone, many of the retailers reporting ??? recently have had experience in common. Since the start of last year, stores have laboured in some of the most difficult trading conditions many can remember. Sales declines and profit warnings followed.

Now there are signs that, even if conditions are not necessarily improving noticeably, store groups are at last getting to grips with their difficult circumstances. Compared with some of Kingfisher's updates over the past year or so, the relatively small decline has all but prompted popping of the champagne corks among investors. And Woolies' bleak numbers were actually a little better than some had feared.

Woolies boss Trevor Bish-Jones also had a good story to tell on margins, which are likely to be better by 100 basis points for the full year. In such a volatile sales climate, that's the sort of statistic that reassures the City.

And it's margin that took the shine off JJB's numbers. What the retailer described as 'predatory pricing' of England replica shirts by competitors contributed to a shortfall on JJB's gross profit on the product. Overall, its shops took a 280 basis point hit on gross margins.

When costs are rising and sales lacklustre, skilful margin management can make all the difference. It's tough out there, and it looks like it's going to stay that way. The winners will be not just the retailers that outperform, but the ones that disappoint the least.

After a brief and unhappy sojourn at East, Yasmin Yusuf is back. The one-time M&S creative director for womenswear is joining mentor Sir Philip Green's Miss Selfridge chain in the same role. The hiring is one of the most high-profile appointments made by the Arcadia tycoon in the past few years, and Yusuf could make a big difference to his business.

Despite having a reputation for being a little bit grand, Yusuf is well regarded in the fashion retail world. In harsh retailing conditions, it's the talent you have on board that often makes the difference between success or failure. And after her experience at East, Yusuf will be determined to show what a difference she can make.