UK food and clothing retailer Marks & Spencer has reported a 7.0% rise in first-half profit before tax, despite the effects of the exceptionally hot summer weather.

The company posted group profit before tax of £311.5m (US$522.0m) for the 26 weeks to 27 September, compared to £290.1m in the year-ago period.

Operating profit rose 8.6% to £335.4m, while UK retail sales rose 4.3% to £3.3bn.

UK retail sales, including VAT, rose 4.2%, or 2.4% on a like-for-like basis. Food sales in the UK increased 6.9% in the first-half, or 3.4% on a like-for-like basis.

In food, overall sales growth was ahead of the market but performance was less strong in the second quarter when the company had lower levels of promotional activity than last year, with sales also affected by the hot weather, M&S chief executive Roger Holmes said.

For the autumn season, Holmes said the company has increased promotional activity back to normal levels.

“We continue to make progress on our target of adding 500,000 square feet of new food space, some 150 stores, by March 2006. By the end of September, we had opened 37 Simply Food stores, of which we opened 19 in this half year, and had 29 Food stores, of which we opened one during the same period,” Holmes said.