Marks and Spencer claims to be encouraged by food sales over the Christmas and millennium period, even though growth was just 3.4% in the six weeks to January 8. Total food sales were up 3.2% in a 15-week period, with like-for-like growth pegged at 1.2%. A dismal performance by clothing contributed to an overall sales slump of 8.8% on a like-for-like basis in the 15 weeks to January 8. The figures are bad, but not as disastrous as the City had feared. As a result, shares in M&S rose almost 13p to 303.5p. Investors are waiting to see if any of M&S's potential suitors make a move. Entrepreneur Philip Green, one of those stalking M&S, described its underlying performance as "poor". He added: "There is no sign they are out of the trenches. They lack the necessary skills and are battling with their supply base." But M&S said the performance of its food division had been improving since this time last year, when it reported a like-for-like decline in sales of 1.1%. But the tone of the M&S trading statement contrasted with the upbeat message from Waitrose, M&S's main rival for upmarket food. Waitrose said sales in Christmas week were almost 30% ahead of last year. Sales for the 22 weeks to January 1 were up 8.5%. l M&S made no comment on whether it had found a new chairman. See page 52. {{NEWS }}