Marks & Spencer, the British retailer seen as a bellwether for much of the market, reports a decline in profits in the first half of the year.

Marks and Spencer (Reuters)

The retailer, which has 703 stores in UK high streets and retail parks, reported profits before tax of £289.5m for the first half of the 2012/2013 financial year, down from £320.5m for the same period in 2011. It was the second consecutive year in which it has suffered a first-half decline in profits.

Marks & Spencer said the first half of the year had been "challenging", due to the weak global economic picture and the wet weather over the summer months.

The company added that whilst the Jubilee and the Olympics had "improved the nation's mood", this had not translated into higher sales.

M&S went on to say that it is "cautious" about the outlook for the rest of the year due to "volatile" trading and the "continued pressure" on consumers' disposable incomes.

Overseas and online

Marc Bolland (Reuters)

Profits were also hit by "merchandising issues" in the retailer's Spring/Summer clothing collection, but the business said it had taken "decisive action" to bring its stock levels back in line for its Autumn/Winter collections.

Internationally, Marks & Spencer reported increased sales in its 390 stores, which are located in 44 territories across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. However, the international business suffered a 7.3 per cent decline in profits.

There was better news for the business from its online offering, with its multi-channel business enjoying an increase in sales of 17.8 per cent. Marks & Spencer's website recieves 3.4 million weekly visits and sales from its mobile site increased by 77 per cent in the first half of the year.

Marc Bolland, chief executive of Marks & Spencer, said: "We are making strong progress with our plan to transform M&S into an international multi-channel retailer. Our new international stores are performing well, and our multi-channel business is delivering strong growth.

"As we approach the all important Christmas period, we have better than ever Christmas products, to help our customers enjoy a special Christmas at home."