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It’s time to see how the supermarkets have fared over the festive period – has food and drink flown off the shelves or has economic and political uncertainty dimmed the Christmas spirit?
Tesco has fared particularly well, reporting its ‘best day ever’ for food sales over the Christmas period. Its shares were up 1.5%, to 253.30p, as it reported a 0.4 per cent rise in like-for-like-sales in the UK and Ireland in the 19-week period including Christmas. Under Chief Executive Dave Lewis, soon to be replaced by Ken Murphy, Tesco’s shares have risen by 25% over the past five years, which could be testament to his stance on paring down product ranges and reversing international expansion. Lewis said that “In a subdued UK market, we performed well, delivering our fifth consecutive Christmas of growth.”
While most analysts have reiterated ‘buy’ ratings for the supermarket, some have taken a more cautious view of Tesco’s performance. John Woolfitt of Atlantic Capital markets pointed out that “Tesco said they outperformed UK rivals with the biggest ever day of UK food sales in its history, but despite this, they still only managed to eak out a 0.1% rise in underlying sales in its home market.” Others, however, believe the supermarket has made some smart expansion moves recently and its forecasts of an earnings rise of 8 per cent in 2020/21 may make it a tempting buy.
Morrisons saw its share price rally by three per cent when it released its trading figures after a sharp drop earlier in the week when fears of a profit warning were at their peak. The figures were somewhat underwhelming – the supermarket reported a 1.7 per cent fall in like-for-like sales excluding fuel for the 22-week period ending 5th January but this was obviously enough to allay investor fears. Morrisons share price now stands at 190.60p at the time of writing, an 11 per cent drop over the past year. Most analysts have retained a ‘hold’ rating on the supermarket’s stock with some pointing out that its turnaround plan has left the business leaner and better equipped to deal with its competition but it can afford no slip-ups over the coming months. Some have also described Morrison’s reticence about specifically revealing its festive figures as ‘dubious’, perhaps pointing to a disappointing Christmas performance.
Sainsbury’s also saw its share price slump, now standing at 220.83p at the time of writing, after it reported relatively flat sales over the festive period.
Sales for the 15-week period to the 4th January were up by 0.4% but this was mainly due to a 5% hike in online sales, while retail was down 0.7%.
Performance was also hampered by desultory sales from Sainsbury’s owned Argos, which lost some of its market share on toys after it ditched its traditional 3 for 2 promotion. Some analysts have pointed to Argos as holding the group back, suggesting that it’s fighting a losing battle to compete with larger rivals Amazon and Dixons Carphone. Others have raised concerns about the supermarket’s slim operating margin of 1.9% and return on capital employed of 3.3%.
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