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By
Reuters
Published
Nov 5, 2010
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M&S spotlight on new CEO's plans as profits rise

By
Reuters
Published
Nov 5, 2010

M&S
Marks and Spencer, Manchester
LONDON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) is expected to post a 16 percent rise in first-half profit, providing a promising backdrop for new CEO Marc Bolland to outline his strategy, which could include a big push overseas. Dutchman Bolland, who became chief executive in May, is in the enviable position of being able to set out his plans for the clothing, homewares and food retailer on the back of four consecutive quarters of underlying sales growth.

The former boss of Britain's fourth-biggest grocer Wm Morrison Supermarkets (MRW.L) has promised "evolution not revolution", and with the business already making good progress he is not expected to present radical plans.

Analysts expect him to reaffirm or accelerate M&S' existing initiatives to invest in its supply chain, IT systems, logistics infrastructure, and in e-commerce.

Some believe he could restart store expansion into continental Europe, particularly in France and Spain, after a painful retreat in 2001, while others see a more measured, and cheaper, approach of pushing its internet offering overseas first as more likely.

Other possible initiatives may include bringing in more third-party brands in clothing and cosmetics, and, given Bolland's background in marketing, a shift in the way M&S communicates its quality credentials, both in clothing and food.

"New management's top priority should be to ensure that M&S maintains its recent good performance in the UK," analysts at Societe Generale said in a note.

"The key risk ... is that international becomes a distraction from the core business, where there remains ample scope for execution improvements and margin recovery."

FIRST-HALF PROFIT RISE

M&S, which serves 21 million Britons a week from over 650 stores and has about 320, mainly franchise, stores abroad, is forecast to report a pretax profit of 335-353 million pounds ($541-$570 million) for the six months to Oct. 2, with a consensus of 347 million pounds, according to a company poll of analysts.

That compares with 298.3 million pounds in the same period last year.

M&S is also expected to raise its dividend for the first time in three years, with an interim payout of 5.8-6 pence, up from 5.5 pence.

J Sainsbury (SBRY.L), Britain's number three grocer, is expected to deliver an 8 percent rise in underlying profit to 333 million pounds, according to a Reuters poll of 10 analysts, when it reports first-half results on Wednesday.

The group has beaten sales growth at rivals Tesco (TSCO.L), Asda (WMT.N) and Morrison's (MRW.L) recently, helped by a trend towards upmarket foods which is also benefiting M&S.

But analysts are keen to see if the outperformance has been accompanied by improving profitability, with forecasts for the margin on earnings before interest and tax ranging from 3.3-3.5 percent, against 3.28 percent in the first half of last year.

(Editing by Sharon Lindores) ($1=.6198 Pound)

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