Recession? What recession? If you’d landed from outer space two weeks ago, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about, from a retail point of view anyway.
We’ve had Tesco breaking the £3bn profits barrier, and Game increasing profits by two thirds. Asos has continued its meteoric growth, while the Primark story shows no sign of running out of steam. N Brown continues to be the epitome of a well run specialist retailer.
Even retailers operating in the more challenging sectors are defying the doomsters. Debenhams posted a remarkable 10 per cent rise in first-half profits, Sports Direct is right on target and WHSmith is performing as consistently as we have come to expect from Kate Swann. HMV, which everyone had written off a couple of years ago, continues to reinvent itself successfully for the digital age under the leadership of Simon Fox.
No one has done the retail sector any great favours – not least the Government with its ham-fisted measures on credit insurance, business rates and VAT – but the sector is doing a fine job of managing the downturn.
It is responding to the more cautious consumer mood by offering the right products at the right prices, and retailers are managing their businesses with an iron rod of efficiency. In short, they are proving to be resilience personified.
Will that be enough? Many retailers, such as Sir Terry Leahy last week, are saying things have stabilised. That’s a welcome perspective. But not all retailers are convinced this isn’t just the calm before the storm. Unemployment has further to rise, and the impact of inflation in food and non-food will bite harder. The public finances are a mess and the capital markets are not going to recover overnight.
And the consumer mood remains incredibly fragile, as shown by the one ghastly black spot in retail, which is anything to do with furnishing the home. This week’s results from Home Retail Group and trading update from Carpetright can’t have left anyone in doubt that investing in the home or moving house remains off the agenda for most shoppers – and bear in mind that while Homebase is a mess, Argos and Carpetright are two of the better performers in that particular market.