Mar 18, 2012
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Retailers to shine light on recovery prospects

Mar 18, 2012

Updates from four of the country's biggest retailers next week will reveal the current strength of consumer spending and prospects for 2012 as hopes grow for a tentative recovery.

Debenhams store in Birmingham

Kingfisher, Europe's biggest home improvement retailer, Next, Britain's second-largest clothing retailer, Debenhams, the nation's second-largest department store operator, and J Sainsbury, its third-largest grocer, will all report in the week Chancellor George Osborne steps up to give his Budget speech for 2012-13.

Many retailers have struggled over the last year as consumers battled inflation, government austerity measures, worries about job security, a stagnant housing market and the impact of the euro zone debt crisis.

But the government and the Bank of England expect a rise in consumption later this year when inflation is set to fall.

While a March 6 industry survey said retail sales remained sluggish in February, latest official data showed they rose in January. That data and a string of promising business surveys have raised hopes of recovery in 2012.

Earlier this month John Lewis JLP.UL (BB90_p.L) owner of the country's biggest department store group and the upmarket Waitrose supermarket chain, said it expected trading conditions to improve as the year progresses and summer events, such as Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the London 2012 Olympic Games, get shoppers spending again.

A big expansion in existing markets and the development of a common range of products to improve profit margins will be key themes for Kingfisher (KGF.L) when it sets out the next phase of its strategy along with full-year results on Thursday.

The owner of B&Q in Britain and Castorama in France said last month it would meet analysts' forecasts for underlying pretax profit of 799 million pounds in the year to end-January, a 20 percent rise on the 670 million pounds made in the previous year.

Next (NXT.L), Britain's No. 2 clothing retailer, also posts full-year results on Thursday.

The group has forecast pretax profit of 558-572 million pounds in the year to end-January, roughly a 4 percent rise.

It is expected to give detailed guidance for 2012-13 after cautioning in January that it expected only modest sales and profit growth, citing concerns over the euro zone debt crisis, a credit squeeze and unemployment.

Analysts expect J Sainsbury (SBRY.L), the country's No. 3 grocer, to report on Wednesday a 2.1 percent rise in fourth-quarter (10 weeks to March 17) sales at stores open at least a year, excluding fuel, but including VAT sales tax.

That would match growth achieved in the third quarter (14 weeks to January 7) and put it ahead of major rivals.

Debenhams will report on first half to end-February trading on Tuesday. Analysts expect broadly flat underlying sales.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Sophie Walker)

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