On the menu this week: post-festive results presentations from the big four
So you’ve poisoned the family with an underdone turkey, split your trousers after gorging on a whole tin of Quality Street and chucked the tree over the fence into your neighbour’s garden. But please don’t think you’ve seen the back of Christmas 2012 yet. This week three wise men will trot out to face the City as the retail reporting season kicks off with a trio of Yuletide updates from the listed supermarkets Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
The season, it would appear, was not terribly jolly for Morrisons boss Dalton Philips, as it seems that no-frills rivals ate his lunch. Like-for-like sales are expected to be down 2.5% over the key six-week period and last week Jefferies, which as one of Morrisons’ own brokers is supposed to be on the supermarket’s side, prepared investors for a sizeable disappointment with a note promising the grocer would kick off the season “in a weak manner”.
That’s a Christmas gift for Sainsbury’s self-effacing boss Justin King, who should get an easier ride on Wednesday when he’ll unveil growth of about 0.9%. Still, the number three chain is expected to be trumped by Tesco boss Philip Clarke, who, analysts reckon, will banish the ghosts of Christmas past by pulling 1% out of his sack on Thursday. That will be nice for him: last year, he saw in the new year with Tesco’s first profit warning in nearly 20 years.
Bollard reviews M&S’s Christmas dramas
Tonight we’ll all be treated to a new television drama promising to tell the story of man with a mission to “make shopping as thrilling as sex”. But before Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland gets overly excited, this is not a biopic about the dapper Dutchman. ITV’s new show is about Mr (Harry) Selfridge, the flamboyant founder of the London department store.
Anyway, Bolland may already have enough drama in his life. The City is starting to find the performance of the M&S boss as irritating as one of his beloved cliches and he needs to show at this week’s third-quarter results that this Christmas he kept the wolf from the door (as he might put it).
Last year, guerrilla discounting by rivals cost M&S dear, forcing it to retaliate with price cuts that hit margins. This time may prove different, with major rivals John Lewis and Next both suggesting that there was less discounting on the wrong side of Christmas. Still, the consensus is for like-for-likes in M&S’s clothing and homewares to be down 1.5%, offset partially by growth of 0.5% in food, and Nomura has shaved £28m off this year’s profit forecast. Like the end of a mini-series, expect the odd cliffhanger.
Housebuilders bullish – will they raise the roof?
If you didn’t have a house before the credit crunch, it has proved pretty tricky to find the funds to buy one since. But as many struggle to get a foot on the first rung of Britain’s favourite dinner party conversation, shares in the housebuilders themselves don’t seem to be having any trouble finding first-time buyers.
The seven builders in the FTSE 250 – Barratt, Bellway, Berkeley, Bovis, Persimmon, Redrow and Taylor Wimpey – all outperformed their index last year (despite last week’s news of a steep reduction in housebuilding). Just like buying bricks and mortar, there are plenty of experts to tell you a punt on the shares is safer than houses.
They certainly tend to have a good three months at the start of each year: in only five of the past 33 years has the sector failed to deliver positive first-quarter returns for shareholders. Added to that, the Bank of England now reckons its Funding for Lending scheme is starting to increase the availability of mortgages, so facts now support the bullish share tips.
We’ll get some clues as to whether the optimists are right this week, as Persimmon and Bellway report (with Barratt, Bovis and Taylor Wimpey the week after). Still, as home buyers have occasionally been shocked to discover, prices don’t always rise.