Marks & Spencer has reported that like-for-like sales fell 4.2 per cent in the UK during the fourth quarter of the year, with food falling 3.7 per cent and general merchandise down 4.8 per cent through the period.

This, however, represented a marked improvement on the third quarter, where UK sales dropped 7.1 per cent.

'We have made progress against the key priorities set out at theinterim results in November,' said group chairman Sir Stuart Rose. 'Ourcustomers are responding positively to the actions we have taken,resulting in an improved sales performance this quarter in both generalmerchandise and food.

'Foods performance improved again this quarter, with customers welcoming our increased innovation, better ranging and sharper values highlighted by our Wise buys, Dine In and Family Favourite offers,' he added.

International sales jumped 23 per cent for the 13-week period to 28 March, a major factor in Marks & Spencer's overall group sales growth of 1.9 per cent.

'Sales in our international business grew 23 per cent reflecting the ongoing integration of our Czech and Greek business partners and new store openings over the period,' Mr Rose said.

In line with previous guidance for 2008/09, the group is forecasting UK gross retail margin to be around 175 basis points lower than 2007/08, operating cost growth of 4-5 per cent and capital expenditure to be under £700m.