Inghams provided a trading update for 1H24 suggesting EBITDA pre AASB-16 is on track to rise 67% for the half. The company has seen improved volumes and some cost pressures have eased. Given prices are trending up 10% for its poultry, Inghams is seeing meaningful margin recovery. The company is on track to return to 8%+ EBITDA margins this year, which is just below pre COVID-19 levels of 8.5%. We lift our EBITDA forecasts by 23% in FY24e and 10% in FY25e. The unknown is where margins peak. Past investments have been made to improve operational efficiency, but the magnitude of price rises may mean EBITDA dollars are much higher than pre COVID-19 but percentage margins less so.
Woolworths hosted a tour of its Melbourne South Regional Distribution Centre (MSRDC). This highly automated DC opened 2019 but COVID-19 delayed any inspection of the site. Woolworths spent over $560 million, including capitalised lease costs, and we estimate the return on investment at 7%-9%. While Woolworths has a different partner to Coles, we expect a similar outcome in terms of cost per case in the automated DC and a similar return on investment. The shift to automation comes at an important time for the supermarkets given escalating wage cost growth. While these DCs are impressive, they are more likely to offset to wage pressures than lift profit margins.
Coles Redbank ADC will have 33% lower operating costs compared with the two DCs it is replacing. The physical footprint is also 50% smaller. Coles is consolidating all 18,000 ambient SKUs into the one site and the ADC will build pallets specific to each aisle of a store. The Redbank DC will ramp up to a typical 2.7 million cases per week and can manage up to 4.0 million in peak periods.
Once the NSW equivalent DC, Kemps Creek, is operational in the March quarter of 2024, Coles will have halved its ambient DC footprint in NSW and QLD but have twice the DC capacity
Coles reported 1H23 sales up 4% and EBIT up 14%. The result showed good growth on the surface, however, reduced COVID-19 costs and the accounting associated with Express earnings drove growth. While sales growth should remain strong, inflation is peaking and operating cost growth could stay elevated too. Coles’ change of CEO comes at a crucial time where delivery of new distribution centres should drive earnings over the next three years.
Metcash will host an investor day on 17 and 18 October 2022. This is the first opportunity for new CEO Doug Jones to set his agenda for the company. We expect the focus to be about initiatives that drive sales, more so than margins. Updating the company’s IT and distribution centres is likely to be a near-term focus. We will look for information about initiatives to drive more store refurbishments as well. We are interested in longer-term challenges such as developing a better value offer and private labels; considering expansion into food service or pharmacy and how the business will compete online. The strategy may not move numbers much, other than higher capex in our view.
Australia is an open economy and over the past twenty years, its retailers have increasingly imported consumer goods. In Issue 4 of The Retail Mosaic, we explore the extent of imports by retail category, the significance of China in supplying goods and exposure various companies have to direct imports from China. China provides the most efficient source of production and for many companies represents more than 70% of their offshore sourcing. The risk is that any increase in costs, supply disruptions or trade tensions could impact sales and margins. The companies sourcing most of their goods from China are Wesfarmers, City Chic, Woolworths, Premier Investments and Super Retail Group.
Bunnings accounts for 63% of earnings at Wesfarmers. While a strong business with a leading market position, Bunnings faces challenges in continuing to take market share in our view. The two major areas of share gains are in online and trade. However, in order to succeed in trade and online, Bunnings may need to spend significant capex overhauling its supply chain. At this stage, we do not expect any major shift in supply chain strategy and as a result have modest sales growth and flat margins over the next three years for Bunnings.
Inghams provided a further trading update about its second-half of FY22e. The results will be “seriously” impacted by Omicron, floods and input cost pressures. We forecast FY22e EBITDA of $135 million (pre AASB-16). 2H22e EBITDA is down 68%. While FY22e is tough, there should be a rebound in FY23e as earnings normalise. However, our EBITDA does not recover to pre COVID-19 levels because higher transport and feed costs could weigh on earnings for longer.
Our feedback from a range of contacts is that Christmas 2021 trading was solid, particularly given the high base from 2020. The strongest feedback comes from the furniture sector. Whitegoods were strong and supermarkets had a late rush in sales. While a good festive season, the debate is going to shift quickly to the impact that COVID-19 has had on January 2022 trading. Sales could be down 10%-20% for the month leading to 3%-5% full year EPS risk in our view.
Australian retail price inflation has been low for a long time. However, input and supply chain costs have increased substantially in the past year. What if we had 5% inflation in both food and non-food in 2022? This is a hypothetical question to raise the debate about the implications of higher retail prices. High price inflation is likely to boost retail earnings in the first 12 months. If we have 5% price inflation, the upside to earnings is 6%-12%.
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