Morrisons has traditionally been the most shy of the big four grocers towards City analysts, investors and the media. Some believe that has led, in part, to its de-rating.
But Morrisons has a good story to tell. While new chief executive Dalton Philips took over at a difficult time, when the whole sector started to suffer from dampened food inflation, he has kept his foot on the pedal and the grocer’s momentum has not waned.
When it delivered its first-quarter update earlier this year, with like-for-likes up 0.8%, it said it was “a nose” ahead of the rest of the big four, and broker Shore Capital believes Morrisons will have delivered the strongest overall trading momentum for the past six months too.
Morrisons was damned for reporting a trading slowdown because it was the first to do so, but the rest of the big four soon followed. While the market remains tough, Morrisons should have been able to gain ground on margins despite it coming up against the anniversary of higher margins a year earlier.
Shore Capital says that promotional activity has been relatively low-key - despite the milk war that erupted last week when all four grocers slashed prices - and that Morrisons is an “astute trader”, so it expects robust gross margins to be a feature of its half-year.
Morrisons is also run as a tight ship. It is implementing several important IT projects and modernising its distribution network, which should all support margin growth. It has also shown innovation with the purchase of manufacturer Simply Fresh Foods last month, again supporting margin growth.
Philips is edging closer to revealing his strategy for Morrisons in September. While he has to tackle big issues such as online grocery shopping and non-food, he also needs to deliver clarity on store opening plans to ensure sales growth. His competitors have been gung-ho about expansion and Morrisons will not want to be left behind.