Store stocks strongly outperformed the All-share index as the latest BRC data showed a sales surge in April, when grocers and some general retailers benefited from sunny weather and bank holidays.
But brokers sounded a cautious note. Singer said: “Investors should not confuse this with a sign that the environment has changed, but simply as a shot in the arm. There is still a swathe of losers to consider, even in April.”
Investec noted: “We still think the sector faces some very difficult trading conditions in the immediate future. Hence our continued caution overall and unwillingness to get too sucked into the recent sector rally.”
Electricals group Kesa, owner of the Comet chain, made the bear point with a dire trading update. The shares have risen recently on bid chatter but Arden, which has a neutral stance, said: “Given the strong balance sheet we prefer Kesa to Dixons [scheduled to report after Retail Week went to press] and we have our 125p target under review, but bid hopes look a bit overdone.”
Brokers were lukewarm about Sainsbury’s full-year results. Jefferies, advising hold, feared a downside risk to earnings. Jefferies said: “A sharp slowdown both in industry like-for-like growth and Sainsbury’s performance relative to peers has prompted cuts in earnings expectations for fiscal 2011/12 in recent weeks.”
Shore Capital, also recommending hold, noted: “The sales dynamic of Sainsbury’s has eased back in recent months to one of ‘being in the pack’ rather than sustained outperformance.”
Nomura reiterated its buy recommendation on Tesco after new boss Phil Clarke set out a seven-point strategy. The broker said: “The new strategic target ‘to be a creator of highly valued brands’ reflects a growing trend that is a material long-term positive for Tesco and other global retailers, and a negative for branded manufacturers.”
Ocado’s anticipated first-half sales growth of 21% is behind JP Morgan Cazenove’s expectations. The broker said there had been a “slight bump in the road” but Ocado’s “long-term story remains intact” and stuck to its overweight stance. Shore Capital reiterated its sell advice and warned there was “little room for disappointment on stratospheric multiples”.
Ahead of AIM-listed Majestic Wine’s results next month Collins Stewart issued a buy note. The broker said that in the medium term Majestic would benefit from the closure of more than half of the Oddbins estate and that there could be “material benefits” from next year’s Olympics.
Next week there will be updates from retailers including Mothercare, which will issue full-year results.