M&S looks soggy

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Marks and Spencer is the biggest corporate story so far and looks very much like a triumph of expectation management. Suddenly, a 2 per cent rise in like-for-like UK sales in April-June looks a lot better than the 1 per cent the market was expecting. But surely the real comparison is with 3.8 per cent for the previous quarter and 8.2 per cent for the first quarter of the last financial year. The wet weather didn’t help, said chief executive Stuart Rose, who once declared “weather is for wimps”.

The M&S figures come on the same day that the British Retail Consortium reports that in June shoppers continued to spend despite heavy rain and low temperatures. The BRC said retail sales rose 5.1 per cent in June, an acceleration from the 4 per cent rise in May.

Also, Arriva has won the Cross Country rail franchise but the real story here is that National Express, once the leading rail franchise operator, failed to win it.

We’ll do more on Northwest Biotherapeutics, which claims to have found a vaccine for brain cancer. It shares, listed on Aim, rose 34 per cent yesterday and are up another 57 per cent. As they say on FT Alphaville, this is either a company with a wonder drug and is heading for the moon, or it isn’t.

Finally, I’ve been reading Alastair Campbell’s diaries. I doubt the political pundits will notice but they provide a delicious glimpse of the dynamic between Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan. For those who won’t get to page 603, here is a bit of Campbell’s entry for January 17, 2002 (it includes strong language):

“Murdoch was coming in for dinner, and along with Les Hinton, brought James and Lachlan. They arrived a bit early, and I took Murdoch upstairs because TB [Tony Blair] wanted 15 minutes with him, then entertained the others in my office before we went up. I was interested to see how Murdoch related to his kids. Lachlan seemed a bit shy of expressing his views whereas James was anything but. Murdoch was at one point putting the traditional very right-wing view on Israel and the Middle East peace process and James said that he was ‘talking fucking nonsense’. Murdoch said he didn’t see what the Palestinians’ problem was and James said it was that they were kicked out of their fucking homes and had nowhere to fucking live. Murdoch was very pro-Israel, very pro-Reagan. He finally said to James that he didn’t think he should talk like that in the Prime Minister’s house and James got very apologetic with TB, who said not to worry, I hear far worse all the time.”

Rumour of the day: Unilever shares are up nearly 4 per cent on hopes of more sector consolidation after Danone offered $17bn for Numico of the Netherlands.

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