RETAIL giant Marks & Spencer posted a robust 25.1 per cent pre-tax rise for the year to March 31, with earnings from operations in the region soaring 70.2 per cent to GBP10.6 million (about HK$126.1 million). The group is to announce details of its sixth shop in Hongkong early next month. The newest store will be of a similar size to its Pacific Place shop. Total profits for Marks & Spencer hit GBP737 million, at the top end of analysts' expectations and achieved in the face of recessionary economies across its key markets. Cost-cutting and enhanced efficiencies spurred growth across the board, with a freeze on prices in the Hongkong stores allowing the territory's shops to carve out a bigger market share. Director of retail operations and Far East Development Colin Buchanan said: ''One of the impacts of keeping prices reasonably stable against a backdrop of 10 to 12 per cent inflation means we are starting to look like better value and more and more people are buying our merchandise. ''So I think our market share is getting bigger and bigger all the time and that extra volume increase has given us the increase in profits.'' Marks & Spencer in Hongkong aims to keep prices frozen for the third year running, although Mr Buchanan warned that big hikes in rental bills could put paid to this plan. Escalating rentals, added to rising labour costs, will also serve to slow down the levels of profit growth in the territory, he said. Globally, the group has rewarded shareholders with a second-half dividend of 5.9 pence per share, making a full-year dividend of 8.1 pence, up 14.1 per cent from 7.1 pence a year earlier. Earnings per share rose 33 per cent to 18 pence from 13.5 pence. The food and clothing giant chalked up sales of GBP5.93 billion compared with GBP5.73 billion a year earlier. Marks & Spencer said it took a one-time pre-tax charge of GBP7.8 million in the current financial year on the sale of assets, compared with a one-off pre-tax charge of GBP84.9 million a year earlier. In an accompanying statement group chairman Richard Greenbury said: ''In the second half of the year, sales growth improved as tight control of operating costs allowed us to reduce our buying margins to below last year's levels. ''As a result, 25 per cent of all selling prices in clothing were lower than in the previous year while the balance remained the same. ''Consequently, our clothing performance showed a progressive increase during the second half and we have gained market share.'' Inflation in Britain is running at less than three per cent. Mr Buchanan said the group was cushioned from the gyrating currency movements that were sparked off last autumn by the break-up of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. He said: ''We were covered at $13 to the pound. We were committed at that level and unable to better currency levels when it went down to $11.8. ''But that also saved us from the big increase to $15 at one stage. ''We have managed our currency in a fairly stable manner which has meant we have neither benefitted from the very low rates nor been exposed to very high rates.''