May 20, 2020 / 10:18 AM / 12 days ago

UPDATE 2-M&S to speed up latest reinvention in 'never the same again' plan

* Pandemic means will accelerate transformation plan

* Says Ocado deal will 'turbocharge' digital offer

* To accelerate store closures programme

* 2019-20 profit down 21%

* Shares up 8.7% (Adds detail, CEO comment, shares, PIX)

By James Davey

LONDON, May 20 (Reuters) - British retailer Marks & Spencer said the coronavirus crisis would indelibly change its business and that it would accelerate its turnaround, as the high street stalwart seeks to reinvent itself anew after a decade of failed revivals.

When the pandemic hit, M&S was already in the middle of a new plan to improve its fortunes, including cost cuts and store closures. CEO Steve Rowe said it would speed up those measures under a programme it labelled "never the same again".

"I am determined to use the lessons from the crisis and accelerate the transformation of M&S so we can emerge as a renewed and stronger business," he told reporters on Wednesday, as the group reported a 21% fall in 2019-20 profit.

Shares in M&S were up 8.7% at 1005 GMT, paring year-on-year losses to 64%.

Rowe said the group would accelerate the closure of at least 100-120 stores.

M&S's partnership with Ocado, which will see it launch an online food service for the first time in September, provided an opportunity to "turbocharge" the group's digital capability, he added.

The 136-year old group would move more swiftly to improve its food supply chain and re-engineer its clothing and home business.

Rowe also said he was determined to ensure old habits of slow decision-making did not return.

M&S made a pretax profit before one-off items of 403 million pounds ($493 million) in its year to March 28, down from 512 million pounds in 2018-19.

It expects the impact of the COVID-19 crisis to last through the 2020-21 year and that subsequent demand may be depressed.

The vast majority of M&S's in-store clothing business has been closed since the nationwide lockdown started on March 23. Its online and food business has traded through the lockdown.

M&S' COVID-19 scenario assumes a 70% decline in clothing and home revenue and a 20% decline in food revenue through to July.

However, in the first six weeks of its new financial year the business outperformed the plan with cashflow over 150 million pounds better than expected under the scenario.

M&S has taken measures totalling over 1 billion pounds to deal with the crisis, including 500 million pounds of cost reductions and further actions to manage cash. It has also secured liquidity and managed excess clothing and home stock.

The group is not paying a final dividend for 2019-20 and does not expect to pay any for 2020-21, saving 340 million pounds.

$1 = 0.8173 pounds Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Paul Sandle and Pravin Char

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