Tesco has come under scrutiny from a leading City analyst over its accounting policies.
Analysts at Citi said Tesco had more aggressive policies than its peers in revenue recognition, depreciation, the allocation of property profit, capitalised interest expense and pension accounting.
Citi analyst Alastair Johnston said: “We are not wishing to imply here that Tesco’s accounting policies are in any way incorrect, rather we suggest that the cumulative impact of the increasingly strident policies they have adopted render the profit and loss bottom line significantly different from what a peer company might report.”
Johnston highlighted the way Tesco accounts for loyalty vouchers. It said had the impact of loyalty vouchers been excluded from the first-quarter performance, sales from stores open for at least a year would have fallen 0.4% and not risen 0.1% as reported.
The note could reignite concern over how Tesco reports Clubcard vouchers. The grocer counts sales paid for with Clubcard vouchers as cash sales, and makes an accounting adjustment for this in its statutory half-year and full-year results. Rivals Sainsbury’s and Morrisons do not include vouchers in their sales.
Johnston said if more conservative policies were applied across all the areas he highlighted, Tesco’s 2009-10 underlying profit would have fallen from £3.4bn to £2.6bn.
Tesco told the Financial Times: “There is nothing untoward with our accounting as Citigroup’s report acknowledges.
“We report in line with statutory guidelines and the accounts are externally audited. The issues discussed in the report have been gone over many times before and do not detract from our strong performance over the last year.”
Tesco also faces anger from a US union-affiliated group at its annual general meeting tomorrow.