Marks & Spencer: chic in Paris, but losing ground at home

Marks & Spencer sign

Everyone looks their best when they are on holiday – even Marks & Spencer, which escorted investors and the press corps around "gay Paree" last week.

Boss Marc Bolland was able to trumpet the success of "Le M&S" in a city where its crumpets and digestive biscuits are "exotique" and its casualwear brand Indigo captures the "spirit of bohème chic".

Unfortunately, back in Blighty it's the same old story for the venerable high-street institution, which is expected to report its 11th consecutive quarter of falling clothing sales on Thursday. Recent figures from Kantar Worldpanel showed the retailer losing market share faster than any of its rivals among the UK's top 10 clothing retailers, with its share of the market slipping to 11.18% in the six months to 16 February from 11.36% a year ago.

To that end, analysts have pencilled in a 1% fall in clothing and homeware sales, while food sales are expected to be flat. The muted performance means that the dapper Dutchman is unlikely to hit even the lowered sales target of £10.8bn he set for the UK chain two years ago, with the City estimating annual sales for the year to March 2014 will come in at around £10.3bn. As they say in France: "bof".

… and now Amazon is stealing a march on it

Britain is Amazon's third-largest international market after Germany and Japan, and we are about to find out just how big a cheque British shoppers wrote to boss Jeff Bezos in 2013. The indications are that it was a whopper; Amazon is almost certain to have overtaken Marks & Spencer in the non-food retail stakes.

Amazon breaks out numbers for its biggest foreign markets once a year, in its annual report. It is due to be published this month, and could come as early as this week.

It has taken many years, but a company with no presence on the high street now has a bigger following than Middle England's favourite chain store. If one excludes food sales, M&S took £4.1bn in 2013. Its performance in 2012 was almost exactly on a par with Amazon, with both taking £4.2bn.

The final piece of the jigsaw, for those interested in what the US group gives back in tax, will come later in the year, most likely in May, when Amazon releases its UK accounts. Accounts filed for the last five years show that Amazon has paid just £4.5m in UK taxes since 2008, £3m of that in 2012. Last year M&S paid £101m to the exchequer.

Tricky questions add up at the Co-op

The Co-operative Bank's number crunchers are hunched over their calculators this weekend, totting up the full-year financial results. Publication was delayed until this week after it became clear that the bank would have to raise an extra £400m to pay for a catalogue of customer ripoffs, including mis-selling loan insurance and overcharging on mortgages. Investors have already been warned to expect a pre-tax loss north of £1bn.

We may also learn whether the controversial bonuses offered to Co-op group chief executive Euan Sutherland and his top team have been awarded to those running the bank. Worth 100% of his £1.5m salary, Sutherland's inducement was generous even by City standards. It was billed as a "retention bonus", but succeeded only in causing his departure after protests from mutual-movement activists.

Niall Booker joined the bank last summer from HSBC just in time to help negotiate the £1.5bn bail-in that saw the parent group cut its stake to 30%, selling the rest to hedge funds and others. Booker has said publicly that "we need to be willing to pay people to take career risk", but has so far declined to answer questions on his own package. He may be more co-operative on the day of the results.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Juliette Garside, for The Observer on Sunday 6th April 2014 00.05 Europe/London

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