Australian retail has had a difficult 2023 with below trend sales growth of 3.1%. We expect another challenging year with growth of 2.5% for 2024. While a weaker year, it will be a tale of two halves with softer growth in the January-June period and better growth for July-December. Moreover, we expect slowing sales in at-home food & liquor and a sharper slowdown in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food. We expect an improving rate of growth for non-food retail. While tax cuts will help sales later in 2024, lower retail price inflation, higher unemployment and a shift of spend to travel will all limit the upside in industry sales growth.
Retail prices may be the first to contribute to lower inflation. Recent data from the ABS shows the impact that sea freight costs had on certain retail categories through COVID-19. The chart below shows freight costs as a share of the total product cost for imported product categories. Furniture freight went from 6% of the total cost in 2019 to 19% in February 2022. It was a similar story for appliances. The unwind of retail inflation is likely to vary greatly by category and is happening already in highly imported categories. In our view, these retail segments are likely to report the weakest sales trends as inflation unwinds quickly. For more click here Report on retail outlook
Australian retail sales rose 3.3% in April 2023, which is the first month of fundamental weakness in a long time. The softness is skewed towards housing categories. Electronics, hardware and furniture sales are all falling. Fashion has reverted to low single-digit growth too. Online has recovered, but is only slightly ahead of overall sales growth. We expect weak sales trends for the remainder of 2023.
Retail sales growth of 5.6% for March 2023 is fading towards long-term trend growth and the additional detail reveals a more meaningful slowdown in non-food retail. Electronics, furniture and hardware all showed notable declines and footwear slowed markedly in March. Online sales only rose 1.1%, which reflects weaker demand in non-food retail. The data also suggests retail volume growth is barely positive. The fade in inflation is the key call on retail from here. We expect continued weaker sales trends over the next 12 months.
Super Retail Group’s trading update to the end of April 2023 reveals good sales trends are persisting but margin pressure is starting to show through. Gross margins are falling and operating costs are rising. In our view, sales trends are propped up by inflation which we expect to dissipate in 1H24e. Moreover, operating cost pressure will continue in FY24e, making that the year of earnings normalisation. Super Retail’s upcoming strategy day should send some positive messages about growth opportunities, but capex could be higher and defer any major capital management.
JB Hi-Fi’s 3Q23 trading update revealed only a modest slowdown in sales at JB Hi-Fi Australia, but a more notable slowdown in The Good Guys. JB Hi-Fi February and March comp sales fell 0.9% on our calculations and the Good Guys was down 5.7%. The distinction is largely a function of inflation trends shifting lower in appliances more so than consumer electronics. The downturn for JB Hi-Fi is proving orderly so far, but sales trends will slow further from here.
Endeavour Group reported a modest lift in 3Q23 sales with improved sales in Retail still lagging the rate of inflation and the Hotel segment sales recovery driven by lower margin food and beverage sales. Endeavour should report earnings growth in FY23e, but growth may step down in FY24e as soft sales trends, weaker gaming sales and higher wage costs places pressure on profit margins.
What a roller coaster it’s been for anyone importing retail goods! The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index shown in the chart below peaked in January 2022 and was 5x higher than its 2019 level. As the world returns to “normal”, sea freight rates are dropping back to 2019 levels. We view freight rates as a barometer of both the supply chain strain and outsized retail demand witnessed during COVID-19. While supply chains are still recovering, inflation in import-driven categories has peaked in our view and may unwind as some of the sea freight savings are passed through. Lower inflation is one of the key triggers for slower retail sales growth over the next 12 months.
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It is inevitable that Australian retail sales growth will be much weaker in 2023 compared with 2022. We forecast industry sales growth at 2%, down from 11% last year. Many are anticipating that retail spending will fall off a cliff. However, volumes are already weak. It is price inflation that is supporting above trend spending. We expect inflation to taper off gradually, which means a more visible downturn in retail sales in the July-December 2023 period in our view. The categories most vulnerable to an earlier slowdown are furniture, hardware and recreational goods where we forecast a decline this year. In the food sector, elevated inflation will support growth of 5% in 2023. The risks to our retail forecasts are to the upside if inflation is higher and households dip into their excess savings built up over the past three years.
JB Hi-Fi reported a very strong 1Q23 sales trading update, which was elevated given the period lapped lockdowns last year. The three-year average growth rates are mid to high single digits reflecting sustained consumer demand and support from both price inflation and mix. We expect sales momentum to slow in 2Q23e as the company laps a more normalised sales base. We forecast 2Q23e comp sales for JB Hi-Fi Australia at 4.4% and The Good Guys at 3.3%. Given we expect a sales slowdown from here, we are more cautious on the stock.
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