Marks & Spencer has posted a 1.8% increase in fourth-quarter like-for-like food sales.

The increase, for the 13 weeks to 27 March, reversed the 3.7% dip recorded for the equivalent period last year.

Executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose said the improvement and was due to better value, availability and product innovation. M&S is expected to launch more than 1,500 new food lines this year.

UK sales rose 6.2% during the quarter, with food sales up 2.6% and general merchandise – which includes clothing and homewares – up 10.6%. Overall group sales rose 4.8%.

Despite the increase, Sir Stuart warned that trading would remain tough in 2010.

"We have weathered the immediate impact of the recession but remain cautious about the outlook for 2010-11 given the current challenging environment," he said.

"We hope that after the election there will be greater clarity on economic policy and how this will impact our customers individually."

M&S shares in early trading were down 1.3% to 373.3p.

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