The Week Ahead: Figures due from Marks & Spencer, Thomas Cook and Royal Mail

Marks & Spencer reports its annual results on Wednesday.

Marks & Spencer reports its annual results on Wednesday. - Credit: PA

Marks & Spencer’s position in the fiercely competitive clothing market will come under more scrutiny this week when the retailer announces its results for the past year.

Marks & Spencer’s position in the fiercely competitive clothing market will come under more scrutiny this week when the retailer announces its results for the past year.

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is set to post its first improvement in annual results in four years when it presents its results to the City on Wednesday.

Analysts expect the retailer to post full-year pre-tax profits up 4% to £648million, after its key clothing division registered its first rise in sales last month following 14 consecutive quarters of decline.

In April a much talked about 1970s-style suede skirt worn by TV presenter and model Alexa Chung helped lift its general merchandise arm to a 0.7% rise in final quarter like-for-like sales.

The move prompted the chain’s beleaguered chief executive Marc Bolland to say the business was “trading with self confidence.”

Nomura analyst Alix Turner said the firm needed to build on this growth by improving its marketing and by finding ways to control its discounting.

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She added that, with around a third of its womenswear sales going to women over 65, it has to find ways to attract new customers. Ms Turner added: “Investment in product design, quality and marketing remain priorities.”

Last month M&S said its spring and summer collections had been well received and that its Autograph and Limited Edition brands were trading strongly.

The company’s food business also saw like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to March 28 rise by 0.7%, helped by record Valentine’s sales.

M&S said the specialist positioning of its food business continued to deliver results in a deflationary market, caused by the ongoing supermarket price war.

Previously the retailer’s performance has stuttered despite turnaround efforts including a multi-billion pound investment drive, the hiring of new fashion executives and a celebrity-driven marketing push. Annual profits have fallen since its 2011-12 financial year and were recently overtaken by rival fashion chain Next.

Tour operator Thomas Cook is expected to report a modest improvement in first-half results on Wednesday, despite rising levels of disposable income being spent on holidays.

Budget carrier easyjet recently posted its first interim profit in a decade as it flew more passengers and enjoyed a strong finish to the ski season, and the world’s largest tourism business TUI Group narrowed losses in its traditionally weaker winter season, with volumes and average selling prices up 1% up over the period.

However, brokers at Numis expect an underlying loss of £180m at Thomas Cook, just a 3.7% improvement on the same period a year ago.

In March Thomas Cook reported first quarter bookings up by 1% and average selling prices down 2% compared with 12 months earlier. a performance described by Numis as “lacklustre”.

The tour operator added that its UK summer programme was 57% sold, 4% ahead of last year, altough average selling prices were 1% down on a year ago.

However, it said that dspite the pricing pressures – due to excess airline capacity and intense competition – it expected to hit its full year targets.

Royal Mail delivers full-year results on Thursday following a period which has seen its shares boosted by the demise of rival Whistl.

The Dutch-owned company, formerly known as TNT, suspended deliveries days ago after a private equity backer pulled out of funding to help expand the business. Whistl’s postal service, employing around 2,000 workers in parts of London, Liverpool and Manchester, was in direct competition with Royal Mail.

Royal Mail said it was “ready to accept the additional volumes into our network”. It came after parcel delivery firm City Link went into administration over Christmas.

The demise of Whistl has lifted Royal Mail’s shares but some remain sceptical about its prospects. Jefferies analyst David Kerstens pointed to increased competition in parcels and only limited room for cost savings under its current workforce agreement.

“The easing competitive threat in letter post, following Whistl’s decision to suspend end-to-end delivery, is clearly supportive... but in our view not to the extent as suggested by the recent 12% share price recovery,” he said.

“Results are expected to re-focus attention on relatively weak underlying fundamentals.”

The market consensus is for adjusted operating profits before transformation costs to fall 2% to £712m, and for a 13% drop to £583m on a reported basis.

Royal Mail said in January that its Christmas went to plan after it handled around 120m parcels during December, up 4% on a year ago.

But it said trading conditions were “highly competitive” with UK parcel revenues flat in the nine months to December 28.