Fashion retail giant Hennes & Mauritz reported on Friday a slightly bigger than expected 8 percent year-on-year rise in sales at established stores in April as spring purchases finally took off.

The mean forecast in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts had been for like-for-like sales at the Sweden-based company to rise 7.5 percent from a year earlier.

Analysts had expected H&M, the world's third-biggest clothing retailer by sales after Gap Inc and Zara owner Inditex , to post a quick rebound in April after a cool March held back spring sales.

H&M said total sales for the month were up 19 percent from a year ago versus a forecast of a 17.5 percent. H&M only gives percentage movements for sales.

H&M posted a surprise 13 percent fall in first-quarter pretax profit due to unfavourable currency swings, but analysts say a stronger Swedish crown could help H&M reduce purchasing costs in the second quarter.

Both H&M and arch-rival Inditex, owner of Zara, have stuck to forecasts for an increase in like-for-like sales this year as they expect to weather a staggering economic downturn better than other clothing retailers, thanks to their offering of high-fashion looks at low prices.

H&M has stood by plans to open a net 225 stores this year in spite of a grim sales environment for retailers.

Last week, Spanish fashion retailer Mango said it would pare back store opening plans this year to 120 to 130 from a previous goal of 160 due to the economic downturn.

(Editing by Will Waterman)