• Group sales up 2.6% in 13 weeks to 26 December
  • Like-for-like sales up 0.8%
  • Expects challenging year ahead

Retailer Marks & Spencer posted a rise in like-for-like sales in the crucial pre-Christmas trading period - but saw the company's shares fall after the figures disappointed analysts.

The City had expected a rise of up to 2% in like-for-likes, rather than the 0.8% increase announced by the company today (6 January), leading to a dip in Marks & Spencer's share price.

The company said group sales rose 2.6% in the 13 weeks to 26 December, with UK sales up 2.3%.

Clothing was the best-performing category, posting a 4% sales increase, well ahead of food and general merchandise sales.

Meanwhile, online sales surged up 32% and international sales increased 6%.

M&S pointed out that the figures did not include the first day of its Christmas sale, 27 December, which would have added about 1% to UK sales, and about 2% to general merchandise total and like-for-like sales.

"We had a good Christmas, continuing the improvements seen throughout 2009," said company chairman Sir Stuart Rose.

"In general merchandise, sales of knitwear, sleepwear and footwear were particularly strong."

More than 8m jumpers and cardigans were bought over the Christmas period, as cold weather swept across much of the UK, Sir Stuart added.

"We expect the trading conditions over the coming year to remain challenging as a result of continuing economic uncertainty," he said.

"We believe, however, that customers will continue to seek out real value and quality for which we are justly famous."

Guidance on gross margin, operating costs and capital expenditure for the current year remained unchanged, M&S said.

Click here for editorial insight into M&S' third-quarter results.