Marks and Spencer
A customer exits Marks & Spencer clothing store in Exeter, Devon. iStock

Shares in Marks & Spencer fell over 2% in early trading on Wednesday (8 November), after it vowed to speed up the closing of its clothing division and put plans to expand its Simply Food business on halt.

In recent years, the high street retailer has predominantly focused on expanding its upmarket food halls to offset its struggling clothing arm but chief executive Steve Rowe admitted the plans faced "stronger headwinds".

M&S had hoped to open 200 Simply Food stores between now and 2019 but the expansion plans will now be slowed down.

"The headwinds facing our food business have intensified as competitors have encroached on some of our space with the rapid growth of convenience," said Rowe.

"Hard pressed consumers are more aware of value and are careful about premium choices. Therefore, although our investment returns remain high, we are slowing our Simply Food opening programme as we reposition our food offer for future growth."

Meanwhile, Rowe added the company would speed up the closure of its clothing division, hinting the retailer had a number of "structural issues" it still needed to address.

"The business still has many structural issues to tackle [...] in the context of a very challenging retail and consumer environment," he added.

"Today we are accelerating our plans to build a business with sustainable, profitable growth, making M&S special again."

Rowe's comments came as the FTSE 100-listed company reported underlying pre-tax profits of £219.1m ($287.8m) for the six months to 30 September, while like-for-like food sales dipped 0.1% year-on-year, as the weak pound translated into higher sourcing costs.

In a separate announcement, the retailer confirmed its chief financial officer, Helen Weir, is leaving the company to "pursue a plural career" after a two-year stint at M&S.

JD Wetherspoon toasts increase in sales

There was more positive news for another icon of the British high street, as JD Wetherspoon reported a 6.1% year-on-year increase in like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks to 29 October, while total sales rose 4.3% over the same period.

The positive performance has kept the pub operator, whose shares have risen by approximately 40% in the year, on track to meet its trading targets for the current financial year.

Wetherspoon's chairman and founder Tim Martin bosses of other companies of spreading misinformation about the impact of Brexit.

Martin, a staunch Brexit supporter, said Sainsbury's chairman, David Tyler, was wrong to say food prices would rise if there was no deal with the EU, suggesting instead that Britain could scrap EU tariffs on food from the EU and outside the EU if it leaves the union without a deal in March 2019.

"There is no cliff-edge," Martin said.

"Wetherspoon, for example, is ready now to leave the EU, since almost no preparation is required - as is almost certainly the case for Sainsbury's and Whitbread, and the vast majority of companies."