Australian retail sales for November rose 2.1%. Black Friday promotions drove improvements particularly in electronics, department stores and furniture. Online food and non-food were both positive, with online food strength growing double-digits. While there are concerns about a pull forward of sales into November, our feedback suggests December sales held up reasonably well.
Australian retailers have had a decent Christmas in 2023, particularly compared with low expectations amongst retailers and investors. Supermarkets traded solidly and electronics demand improved from very weak levels. Liquor and apparel are still trending at very low rates of growth. There is consensus upgrade risk to retailers, particularly Harvey Norman and Super Retail Group. While sales trends are slightly better, the strength of gross margin is the most significant driver of better earnings. The retailer where feedback has shifted most positively is Harvey Norman.
Retail prices have risen substantially over the past three years in Australia, and surprisingly there has been little damage to volumes. In Issue 7 of Price Watch, we assess the relative price movements in retail. Retail price inflation has generally only tracked broader inflation and therefore its relative affordability remains good. Moreover, our analysis across many large retailers reveals they have been meticulous in ensuring price relativities between brands and private labels have been held. Even with sensible measures on price, retailers should brace for a consumer that will increasingly substitute to different pack sizes, brands or even delay their purchase. These behaviours tend to build over time in both food and non-food retail categories.
Australian consumers appear to be in the mood to celebrate Christmas and retail spending is likely to be better than “feared” by many this year.The lead-up before Black Friday was soft, but Black Friday promotions stirred up demand and the ramp into Christmas is likely to be sufficient to lead to better than consensus outcomes. We see upside risk to earnings for 1H24e for Super Retail Group, City Chic, JB Hi-Fi and Wesfarmers. While near-term earnings upside exists, we remain cautious because the path over the next two years is challenging with sales growth likely to remain below cost growth.
We expect Bapcor is likely to experience further weakness in sales as the company cycles through elevated demand during COVID-19. The easing of price inflation and the recovery in new car sales are headwinds. We expect declining LFL sales for both its Trade and Retail divisions at Bapcor. Moreover, Bapcor has higher operating leverage given its fixed cost base. The cost saving program is weighted to 2H24e and will help to mitigate the earnings impact.
Australian national accounts for the September quarter reveals income growth of 2.6% and spending growth of 6.0%. Our analysis highlights that the weakness in retail spending is largely due to a reallocation by consumers away from retail as activities like travel and concerts returned to normal. Wages growth remains healthy and population growth of 2.4% is another partial offset to the pressure from higher interest rates and living costs on spending. The national accounts suggests we are more likely to see a soft landing for retailers and consumers. The weakness in retail demand is likely at its peak currently and should gradually improve through calendar 2024.
Endeavour Drinks Hotel Strategy Day highlighted a clear focus on efficiency at scale and refurbishment of its hotels. The business had lacked that focus under Woolworths ownership and the initiatives should lift earnings. Patience is required as the benefits will flow from FY26e onwards. The detailed financial scorecard disclosed by the company is also a big step forward in accountability. We still incorporate a risk to earnings from regulatory changes. While the exact form is not clear, on a 3-5 year horizon, there could be a hit to Hotel earnings.
Metcash reported a soft 1H24 result with sales up 1.3% and EBIT down 3.4%. The drop in EBIT was concentrated in the Hardware division and further margin pressure is likely given soft demand and rising operating costs. The Food segment has once again confounded sceptics by growing sales (ex tobacco) close to market growth and liquor is performing well. Metcash’s significant capex and acquisition outlays along with rising rates will lift finance costs over the next 18 months.
Australian retail sales for October 2023 rose 1.3%. Category variability continued with dining out resilient and weakness in furniture, electronics and recreational goods. Supermarkets slowed as fresh deflation dented sales. The expectation of Black Friday sales in November likely gave consumers a pause during October in some discretionary categories. Our feedback on November sales and Black Friday have been stronger.
Premier has provided an update on earnings for 1H24e ahead of its AGM. The decision to provide guidance that 1H24e EBIT will be near $200 million is unusual so early in the half and the lack of sales commentary makes it more difficult to gauge the drivers of the earnings change. EBIT of $200 million for 1H24e would be down 10% on the same time a year ago.
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