Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Sales test for supermarket rivals

Tesco will be under pressure to show its UK turnaround plan is on track when it publishes half-year results on Wednesday.

Supermarket rivals Tesco and Sainsbury's will clash next week when the pair deliver updates covering trading for the summer period.

Tesco, Britain's biggest supermarket, reports first-half results on Wednesday as it battles to stem a continuing decline in its market share.

Latest industry data showed its slice of the UK's grocery spending was down from 30.9% to 30.2% compared to last year.

Tesco and the other big supermarkets - Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - are scrapping over a dwindling portion of the pie as some consumers drift upmarket towards Waitrose while others increasingly favour discounters Aldi and Lidl. Of the four, only Sainsbury's has been able to hold on to and grow its share.

Tesco has mounted a push for the higher spenders, including through a Downton Abbey promotion sponsored by its premium Finest range.

It is in the midst of a £1 billion plan to turn around its fortunes but like-for-like UK sales dipped 1% in the first quarter to the end of May amid the ongoing fall-out from the horsemeat scandal. HSBC analysts expect second quarter sales to be flat.

Supermarkets have endured a topsy-turvy summer with a barbecue sales boost during the July heatwave followed by a dip as consumers tightened their belts. Official figures showed food sales rose 2.7% and fell by the same figure in August.

Analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald believe chief executive Phil Clarke has more work to do to c onvince investors that his strategy to 'Build a Better Tesco' is working.

In particular, the f ocus will be on Tesco's UK trading margin given that costs are rising and sales volumes have been negative.

Cantor's food retail analyst Mike Dennis said: "The profit outlook for the second half c ould very much depend on a positive UK sales performance, higher gross margin and a credible explanation of how the multitude of investments in UK stores will improve the brands overall performance."

The broker believes underlying profits for the half-year will be down 6% to £1.36 billion, with UK trading profits up 1% to £1.12 billion.

Sainsbury's is on course to gain more ground on its struggling rival by delivering its 35th consecutive quarter of sales growth when it publishes second-quarter figures on Wednesday.

The chain has consistently beaten its big four rivals Tesco, Morrisons and Asda on sales growth in recent months despite bargain-hunting consumers and a tough grocery market.

Industry figures from researcher Kantar recently showed its market share increased to 16.6% during the 12 weeks to mid-September from 16.4% a year earlier - making it the only one of the big four to grow market share.

That brought it closer to number two grocer Asda, which saw its market share wane to 17.3% from 17.6%.

Analysts on average expect Sainsbury's to grow like-for-like sales by 1.8% during the 16 weeks to the end of September, ahead of the 0.8% growth seen in the prior quarter.

Sainsbury's has prospered with its ''Live Well for Less'' offer to hard-pressed households squeezed by falling real wages.

And it has benefited from its sponsorship of last year's Paralympic Games and British athletics earlier this summer.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said: "We believe that Sainsbury's has the most coherent strategy, and this strategy is well implemented.

"We also feel encouraged by the fact that Sainsbury's price gap to Tesco is now near historical lows."

The summer heatwave could also play into its hands, with industry data suggesting soaring temperatures boosted sales of barbecue food and drinks.

Shore Capital analyst Darren Shirley said: "Sainsbury's has been the clear winner for the quoted grocers in 2013 year-to-date."

Fashion retailer Ted Baker is set to confirm more progress abroad as it expands the British designer brand from Adelaide to Abu Dhabi.

The group is expected to post six months of higher sales driven by store openings when it publishes results for the 28 weeks to August 10 on Thursday.

Its revenues were 32.7% ahead between late January and mid-June, driven by 13.4% growth in its selling space and strong online trading.

It has opened concessions in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Japan in recent months, and plans new openings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The chain, which launched as a shirt specialist in Glasgow in 1987, has about 180 stores in the UK and another 140 across the globe.

The chain is forecast by analysts at Jefferies to report revenues growth of 30% to £153.6 million during the first six months, with pre-tax profits hitting £12.2 million from £9.4 million a year earlier.

They said the retailer's growth potential is substantial thanks to its exposure to fast-growing Asian markets.

They said: "W ith less than 18% of sales contribution from the US and direct retail exposure to key Asian growth markets, Ted Baker is likely to be able to continue to deliver mid to high teens top-line growth over the medium and longer term."

Improving construction markets in the UK and US should help annual profits at building materials giant Wolseley advance strongly when it reports on Tuesday.

The Reading-based group, which earns 14% of its sales from UK businesses such as Plumb Center, Pipe Center and Drain Center, has seen good growth in America and Britain, helping offset tough conditions in Europe.

That allowed the group to grow underlying sales in the February to April period by 2.4%, as increases of 5.2% in the UK and 8.3% in the US compensated for steep sales falls in central Europe, Scandinavia and France.

Wolseley's UK growth was driven by its Plumb and Parts Center brands, but Pipe and Climate Center struggled amid weaker industrial markets.

Britain's housing market continues to power ahead, driven by state stimulus schemes such as Help to Buy. Official figures recently showed construction output between April and June surged 1.9% on the prior quarter - up from an earlier 1.4% estimate.

Analysts on average expect the group's pre-tax profits to surge to £541 million for the year to the end of July from £222 million a year earlier. Trading profits are expected to climb to £704 million against £665 million a year earlier.

Analysts at Citigroup said Wolseley's shares are appealing due to its high exposure to the US, adding its improving balance sheet should create more value for shareholders.

"The group is well-placed to benefit from attractive geographic exposure and leverage to volume recovery, improving margins and strong balance sheet," they said.

Numis Securities analyst Howard Seymour added the results should confirm a continued trend of "strong performance from the US businesses in part being offset by weak outlook in Europe".

Budget airline easyJet will reveal its latest trading figures on Thursday for the first time since an upbeat forecast earlier this year when it said it was in line to smash annual profit expectations.

The Luton-based carrier defied concerns that the heatwave would hit last-minute getaways as it revealed that almost a quarter of its summer seats were booked.

It said that rising passenger numbers and strong third-quarter revenues would mean pre-tax profits of up to £480 million for the year to the end of September - compared with £317 million a year earlier, propelling shares higher.

Since then, however, there has been a warning from rival low-cost airline Ryanair about the effect of increased competition and Europe's continued economic problems on fares and the amount of money it makes per passenger.

The Dublin-based carrier said in the warning issued earlier this month that profits would come in at the lower end of its previous forecast.

Ryanair is also trying to replicate easyJet's success in wooing business passengers after announcing a tie-up with American Express to lure companies that book executive travel through Amex systems.

Analysts at Numis were unmoved about the prospect of the Irish company's woes reflecting too much on easyJet. They said it would not be surprising if given the good weather consumer demand for air travel showed some weakness in the autumn.

But the analysts added: "We believe that easyJet's operational model leaves it well placed for further good progress. At this stage, we believe that it is premature to suggest that any weakness will be anything other than temporary."

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