UK clothing chain Marks & Spencer is pleased with its modest first-half profits and revenues, during a period of dire weather conditions domestically, and will now accelerate its international growth.

The retailer today (6 November) revealed expansion plans in what it views as the two biggest emerging markets, by accelerating franchise opportunities in India and looking for a wholly-owned presence in China.

This morning's figures reveal total sales up 6.5% to GBP4.2bn for the half-year. Same-store sales rose 1.6% and the company's adjusted profit before tax increased 11.5% to GBP451.8m.

For the second quarter, sales rose 5.4% and same-store sales were up 1.2%.

Chief executive Stuart Rose said it was a "good first half despite a tough market".

M&S cited unseasonable trading conditions and major refurbishments for slower growth than recent times, when the company has been reinvented under Rose. Remarkably, it will have completed 70% of its new store models by the end of the year - just in time for Christmas trading.

Rose told investors in a conference call: "It has been a very funny year altogether. I did say some time ago that weather was for wimps, and I have had to slightly eat my words back in the summer when we had a non-summer."

However, the company's sales growth was below the expectations of many analysts and the weather excuse does not "wash" with all.

Pali International analyst Nick Bubb tells just-style: "Sales figures were quite clearly disappointing. The weather evened itself out really but there was disruption for the store revamp work."

He adds that the retail environment has indeed been a tough one though, noting that we may learn more tomorrow when Next's results go public.

M&S says that following the second quarter its clothing market share has increased to 11.0% with a strong performance in all areas. It has extended its Autograph ranges, and introduced Autograph Weekend in women's wear and Autograph occasionwear in kids.

The company's clothing revenues were up 3.1% in the first-half, with second quarter sales up 2.8% and the first quarter sales increasing 3.5%.

Back on the road
M&S famously tasted failure on an international level at the turn of the century when 38 of its continental stores were closed, including its Paris flagship. However, the experience seems to have given the company and its boss the necessary resolve to try again.

Rose says that it has been a strong half for M&S internationally. It has added Lithuania and the Ukraine to its list of territories, and has over 250 franchise stores altogether.

Analysts seem comfortable with M&S' planned surge into India and China, given the company's running experience in Hong Kong, success with franchising and guidance of Carl Leaver, the head of its international division, who will spearhead the expansion.

Rose added: "People have been critical about the fact that we are moving overseas, but it's a natural and logical extension to what we have to do in this business.

"People then say you made a mistake before, well we made some mistakes before but you would not be a very effective business if you'd never made a mistake. In other areas we didn't make mistakes.

"I use the analogy that if you've had a car crash once and you're a driver it doesn't mean that you never drive the car again. You have to get back in your car, have confidence and make another journey."

The long-term goal is for the retailer's international revenues to represent 20% of total income, from sub-10% at the moment. Bubb tells just-style it could take at least five years to reach this target.

Outperforming
The company also plans a GBP1bn share repurchase, representing 10% of the business.

This shows the depth of internal resources, especially given the company's GBP200m investment to go carbon neutral by 2012. It is cautious about future trading, which looks slow in the short-term, but optimistic nonetheless.

Rose adds: "Whilst the short term economic outlook remains uncertain, the actions we have taken to reposition and revitalise M&S over the last three years put us in a good position to continue to outperform and give us confidence in the long term growth prospects of the business."

M&S will have its fingers crossed that outperformance can be maintained, although the measure of success overseas will surely be longevity.

One certainty is that the company's most recent nemesis - the weather - will have less influence in India and China than it does at home.

By Joe Ayling, news editor.