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Hitt og þetta 11. apríl 2006

DJ THE SKEPTIC: M&S Recovers, Now Its Growth Time

LONDON (Dow Jones)--Recovery is one thing, achieving sustainable growth is quite another.

Yes, Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Rose deserves praise. Even comparing the weak like-for-like figures, first-quarter 2006 sales for M&S look very good. After years of decline the big clothing and food retailer has shown - against the odds - that it could reverse years of decline by shaking up product, business and fashion models.

Against a background of intense competition in the middle- and low-cost clothing markets, Rose has put M&S in a half-decent position in the fashion market, ironically one where it's far from being seen as the cheapest.

But the recovery job is far from complete, and still has to be fully unleashed across the wider store portfolio.

Achieving real growth from here on is a different kettle of fish. M&S must still battle to bring back more customers.

Advertising, working on the product and the ongoing process of store revamps has brought M&S this far, but M&S needs a constant flow of new ideas and fashions just to keep up.

And presumably the leaner and fitter M&S means there isn't much more cost left to be taken out.

M&S does have fast-growing food sales to show for its pains. And having brought round clothing and other general merchandise to a more acceptable level of sales, it must now find new ways to push the company forward.

That could even include thinking the unthinkable, leading from the front in some form of industry consolidation. Pressure won't let up on Rose, and shareholders won't be satisfied until M&S has at least achieved in excess of the 30% market share in clothing it enjoyed seven years ago.

Shares have doubled in the past couple of years and are well above the level where Philip Green attempted to grab control in 2004. But in an investment world dominated by short-term thinking standing still isn't an option.

In part Green's bid failed because it lacked a sense of vision, allowing M&S shareholders to believe that staying with Rose would allow a strategy to evolve that would deliver better value.

They were right to do that. But is there still room for Rose to push the share price to a level closer to 700 pence, where it just might have been now if previous management teams hadn't dropped the ball?

That's what Rose still has to prove. M&S has stabilized, which is a good start. Having come this far the hope must be that Rose will stay around long enough to see the whole thing through to achieving growth.