Marks & Spencer soundly beat forecasts for Christmas trading with its first quarterly rise in clothing and homeware sales in nearly two years.

The figures are a welcome boost for its new chief executive Steve Rowe. 

After taking the helm in April, Rowe instigated the latest in a long line of M&S recovery strategies, focusing on turning around the underperforming clothing and homewares business.

The company was rewarded today with an unexpected 2.3% jump in the division's like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to December 31. 

That beat market expectations of a slender rise of up to 0.2%, while food sales also beat forecasts. 

Food sales rose by 0.6% compared to predictions of a slight fall. 

M&S chief Executive Rowe said that M&S had a "good" Christmas and that customers looking for clothes had responded to its "better ranges, better availability and better prices". 

"We saw full-price increases in every single clothing division," Rowe said, adding that it was the first time the 133-year-old company had gained market share in the full-price clothing market for about seven years. 

The food operation, meanwhile, benefited from customers' preference for premium products at Christmas, Rowe said. 

"That played to our strengths as we continued to focus on special and different products, growing our business in a tough market," he added. 

Rowe's strategy focuses on simplifying product ranges, improving quality and pricing, with fewer discounted products. 

"We have been listening to customers very carefully, making sure our merchandise is appropriate, getting those wardrobe essentials right - and it's worked," he said today. 

He said that children's clothes, cashmere and lambswool jumpers and lingerie - traditional M&S strengths - sold well. 

A buoyant Christmas for M&S was in contrast with a miserable season at Next, its closest rival in clothes and homeware. 

Next, which has outperformed M&S for more than a decade, said on January 4 that full-price sales in stores fell by 3.5% in the run-up to Christmas. 

M&S said that customers traded up in festive food, treating themselves to more than 100,00 of its chocolate pine cones in the last days before Christmas, while sales of premium turkeys jumped by 11%. 

Its numbers were helped by the timing of the period, with an additional five days of the busy post-Christmas sale falling into the quarter. 

It estimated that timing had a positive effect of about 1.5% on clothing and homeware sales and about 0.3% on food. 

Rowe remained cautious on the retailer's outlook, saying that fourth-quarter numbers would be adversely hit by the timing that helped the third quarter, as well as a later Easter, but the company's full-year guidance remained unchanged. 

Analysts expect M&S to report full-year pretax profit of £593m for the year to March 31, down from £690m in 2015-2016.