M&S shares wave goodbye to Bolland

<p>For Amsterdam-born Marc Bolland, finally some relief from puns about valiant attempts to plug the dike. He is now M&S’s former CEO. There was still […]</p>

For Amsterdam-born Marc Bolland, finally some relief from puns about valiant attempts to plug the dike.

He is now M&S’s former CEO.

There was still at least one ignominy to suffer though.

As stock markets tanked around Europe, Marks & Spencer shares were among the handful to rise, before dipping back by a similar amount at the time of writing.

That said loud and clear investors cheered the end of Bolland’s 6-year tenure.

The shares rise even seemed to shrug off Mark’s deeply disappointing update on all-important Christmas trading.

Actually, it looked like investors were continuing to sharply discount virtually every other aspect of M&S’s business—many of which have been going the (retail industry equivalent) of gangbusters—to focus mostly on serial failures of General Merchandise (clothing/homeware).

In what M&S called its “best ever” Christmas, food sales jumped 17% in the key week before the 25th December, up 3.7% gross for the quarter and 0.4% like-for-like.

M&S.com online even pretty much matched John Lewis’s Internet sales growth over the comparable quarter.

The latter’s were 21.4% higher in the six weeks to 2nd January.

Marks’ jumped 20.9% higher than those in same season the year before.

 

Top brass of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons et al would also probably pay handsomely for M&S’s leading cash generation.

This enabled it to reduce operating cost guidance to a 2.5% rise from an earlier forecast 4% rise, despite continuing improvement initiatives.

 

For investors, this burnished the buyback programme, leading to £111m of shares scooped up to date.

True, there’s no getting away from General merchandise like-for-like Q3 sales, including Christmas, falling 5.8%, worse than expected.

(And some of that was, like last year, due to logistical mis-steps…paging Mr Bolland?)

Still, it looks like companies such as Next, which already reported winter sales this week, took some of the sting out—M&S’s share slide on Thursday looked contained.

Next shares fell hard earlier this week after it said record mild temperatures forced it to double down on discounts to shift cold-weather clothing stock.

For M&S though, it’s now difficult to see whether Bolland’s replacement could do better at fixing Gen. Merch. than his predecessor.

Steve Rowe, who hasn’t exactly made a secret of his desire for the top over the last few months, now has it.

It remains to be seen if his 25 years at the company have inculcated any hidden talent for industry beating innovation.

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