Marks & Spencer today posted its fourth consecutive quarter of sales growth and said it plans to hire an extra 4,000 staff to help it keep up with demand for its new updated ranges.

Chief executive Stuart Rose, who has driven the high street retailer's turnaround over the past two years, said total sales in the 13 weeks to 1 July were up by 10.4%, with clothing posting a rise of 10.7%.

Mr Rose described the firm's performance as "encouraging," but pointed out the growth was helped by "soft" comparative sales figures from a year ago.

On a like-for-like basis, sales in the 13 week period were up 8.2%, with general merchandise - which includes clothing and footwear - up 10.5%.

M&S said it continues to increase market share, calculating that its total clothing and footwear market share for the 12 weeks ending 28 May 2006 is up 0.7 percentage points to 10.0% from 9.3% last year. For the 52 weeks ending 28 May its market share has risen from 10.3% to 10.4%.

"Despite the challenging trading environment, we are confident that we can continue to drive the business profitably," Rose said in a conference call, but added that second quarter figures are likely to be lower.
The retailer said that the inclusion of Easter in the first quarter of 2006-07 had increased general merchandise and food sales by about 0.8%.

Mr Rose remains cautious ahead of the key Christmas trading season, and intends to wait until then before confirming that M&S has made a recovery.

In its trading update, M&S said that it would be creating 4,000 new jobs in its stores over the next two to three months.

"We continue to focus on improving product, service and the refurbishment of our store
portfolio, 42 of which are currently under development," Rose said.

He pointed out that M&S continues to face strong challenges, not only from competitors like budget chains such as Primark and the supermarkets, but also from higher costs in fuel, rates and rent.

But Mr Rose noted one of the key challenges facing M&S is to keep its ranges fresh and updated and to focus on quality.

In a separate announcement M&S said Paul Myners would step down as chairman later today and be succeeded by Lord Burns.

By Leonie Barrie.