UK retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc today (10 July) posted better-than-expected first-quarter sales, but stressed the short term trading environment is likely to remain "very challenging."

Britain's biggest clothing retailer said like-for-like sales at its UK stores rose 2% in the 13 weeks to 30 June - its weakest quarterly rise for almost two years - including a 2.9% rise in general merchandise (which includes clothing and footwear) and a 0.7% increase in food sales.

In clothing, overall sales were up 3.5% the company said, although this is a marked slowdown on the 10.7% rise posted in the same period last year.

M&S said it has managed to consolidate the gains in market share made over the last year, despite strong prior year comparatives when good weather and the football World Cup helped drive demand, and a significant disruption to trading in its stores as a result of an ongoing refurbishment programme.

However, Stuart Rose, the chief executive who has driven M&S' turnaround over the past three years, described conditions as "particularly volatile" over the quarter, with trading hit by "rising interest rates, general uncertainty over consumer spending, and extreme weather conditions."

The company's international sales climbed 14.8%, helped by the opening of 10 new stores in the quarter, including its first outlets in Lithuania, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Rose added: "We believe that the short term trading environment will remain very challenging, but our plans are unchanged. We are confident that our focus on product, service and environment and our investment in the brand will ensure we continue to make progress."

M&S said it plans to add 4.5% new space this year, and that 70% of its stores will have been modernised by Christmas. The retailer has 520 UK stores and 220 shops overseas.