Marks & Spencer hit by HUGE £200m loss - stores to close as Covid hits high street

The popular high street retailer plunged to a £201.2 million pre-tax loss for the year to March 27, with its clothing and home business taking a huge hit from imposed lockdown restrictions. This compared to a £67.2 million statutory profit in the previous year. M&S reported like-for-like revenues in its food business actually increased by 1.3 percent over the 12 months period.

But the group saw its clothing and home business slump by almost a third (31.5 percent) - despite online growth of 53.9 percent.

These operations made a £129.4 million operating loss, but M&S said the performance in this sector improved in the second half of its financial year.

M&S added sales in this department have also returned to growth since the reopening of all of its stores when lockdown restrictions eased further on April 12.

The company's food business continued to perform well under testing circumstances, growing 6.9 percent, excluding its hospitality and franchise arms.

The retailer also hailed a strong integration with Ocado after both firms launched their online grocery joint venture last September.

Despite the huge losses, M&S insisted its balance sheet is also "stronger than expected" following the impact of the pandemic.

The high street veteran is midway through a significant transformation programme, which last year saw 7,000 jobs cut across stores and management.

M&S currently has has just over 250 "full-line" sites selling clothing and home as well as food ranges, but is looking to reduce this number to around 180.

Fifty-nine stores, as well as 15 food-only sites and eight outlets under previously-outlined plans, have already been closed.

A number of shops will be changed to "food only" and others moved to new locations

Over the next two years, the firm is planning 17 new or expanded "full-line" shops, which will include a handful of sites that were previously part of now collapsed department chair Debenhams.

The retailer added it had received government support of £306.1m during the pandemic, which had partially offset the effect of lost trade and enabled it to trim the number of job losses.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said: "In a year like no other we have delivered a resilient trading performance, thanks in no small part to the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues.

"In addition, by going further and faster in our transformation through the Never the Same Again programme, we moved beyond fixing the basics to forge a reshaped M&S.

"With the right team in place to accelerate change in the trading businesses and build a trajectory for future growth, we now have a clear line of sight on the path to make M&S special again.

"The transformation has moved to the next phase."

Catherine Shuttleworth, founder of retail consultancy Savvy Marketing, warned the gloomy numbers from M&S show the catastrophic effect the pandemic has had on business with retail stores on the High Street

She said "there is some glimmer of hope" as the country comes out of the pandemic, but because of the unpredictability of it all, it is too early to come to any solid conclusions.

The expert told the BBC's Today programme: "The figures show the catastrophic effect the pandemic has had on business with retail stores on the High Street.

"There is some glimmer of hope as we come out of it, but it's one of those years that we can't draw too many conclusions from, because it's been so unbelievably different and something that no retailer could have reasonably planned for."

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