Shares in Marks & Spencer plunged 19% yesterday after the retailer announced its worst Christmas for three years and warned of a ‘serious softening’ for the high street.

Chief executive Sir Stuart Rose said: ‘These are the toughest conditions I have seen for a decade.’

The drop in the share price wiped £1.6bn from the value of M&S, which closed at 409p.

It said like-for-like sales revenues had fallen by 2.2% in the 13 weeks to December 29, worse than expected.

The figures sparked a rout in the listed retail sector, with the FTSE 350 general retailer index suffering its worst fall since 1987.