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.
Like most countries, Australian retail price inflation is elevated, but looks to be peaking. In Issue 6 of Price Watch, we uncover the key lead indicators of retail price inflation. We find that price changes are well correlated globally in electronics and food. Sea freight rates are a good predictor of retail prices alongside some input price indices. The spot observations on all of these indicators suggest Australian retail price inflation is likely to fall meaningfully over the next 12 months and contribute to a slowdown in retail sales growth. We may even see deflation in categories like electronics and apparel.
Consumers love a bargain and retailers usually like giving them one. In Issue 5 of Price Watch, we profile the pricing tactics used by major Australian retailers, the legal boundaries for price tactics and where retailers can trip themselves up. There is a lot of wasted promotional money in retail and there is earnings upside in the order of 3% to 5% by taking an analytical approach to promotions. Super Retail Group and Woolworths have introduced new systems to manage promotions, improving the efficiency of promotional spend and lifting gross margins.
Retail sales are a function of volume, price and mix. While volume and price receive plenty of attention, mix is often mis-understood, or not disclosed. In Issue 4 of Price Watch, we explore mix and its impact on sales. Successful businesses drive mix higher through their deliberate product and price decisions. Consumers will also make conscious choices about their basket mix depending on income, convenience, demographics and the cost of living. In the limited disclosure on mix we have, we find that it accounts for anywhere from one-quarter to half the sales growth for large retailers, with a higher contribution over the past two years. More disclosure on mix would lift perceptions about the quality of sales growth as pure price rises or excessive volume growth are often seen as unsustainable.
While retailers and manufacturers have grappled with a range of cost pressures already, wage cost pressures are only starting to build now. In Issue 3 of Price Watch, we analyse the size and scope of likely wage pressure facing companies. As most retailers are inextricably linked to broader wage-setting mechanisms, we may see an additional 2%-3% higher annual wage inflation over the next two years. The companies with the highest sensitivity to wage inflation are Inghams, Costa Group, Coles and Woolworths.
The prospect of higher price inflation could significantly impact a retailer’s sales, earnings and valuation over the next three years. In Issue 2 of Price Watch, we analyse the impact price inflation has on supermarkets and non-food retailers and assess the likely volume response to price rises. The good news is even in non-food retail, price inflation 2-3 percentage points higher than average will lead to better sales, earnings and a PE re-rate.
Price rises for raw materials have been significant over the past year. In Issue 1 of Price Watch, we analyse these input cost pressures. We look at shipping, sugar, vegetable oils, cotton and semiconductors. While observers see the cost pressures as transitory, the length and extent of the path back to normalisation will significantly impact retailer and manufacturer profits. We expect it will take another 9-18 months for prices to normalise. As a result, retail inflation will rise and there will be profit margin pressure on some, mainly manufacturers, that fail to fully pass through the cost increases.
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