Peacock has reported a pick- up in sales over Easter as the discount end of the clothing market proved resilient to weakening consumer confidence.

Peacock, which saw takeover talks collapse last month, said underlying sales across the group rose 4.6 per cent in the first three months of 2005.

This was faster than the 3.6 per cent growth seen over the whole of its trading year to April 2, although Peacock said its recent performance had been flattered by the timing of Easter.

Growth was strongest at its 429-strong chain of Peacocks stores in the UK.

But its positive story was dented by news of a further sales drop at its 350 Bonmarche shops, which sell clothes for women aged 45 and above.

Like-for-like sales at Bonmarche fell 4.7 per cent over the past 13 weeks, although Peacock said the rate of decline was slowing as shoppers welcomed store refits and the introduction of classic and improved contemporary ranges.

It eased fears that the unsatisfactory sales performance at Bonmarche would leave it with piles of clothing to clear at knockdown prices by saying stock levels remained well-controlled.

Reporting a 9.3 per cent uplift in like-for-like sales at its Peacocks stores, the company said it was winning the battle to persuade male shoppers to spend more. Menswear ranges have traditionally lagged womenswear and footwear, in terms of sales, but Peacock said they were now showing good growth.

With sales of shoes and women's clothing maintaining excellent momentum, Peacock also reported an encouraging response to its new range of childrenswear for spring and summer.

Peacock's shares on the stock market closed yesterday at 2581/4p up 81/4p.