Despite its seasonal success, followed up by a similarly impressive showing in January’s TNS market share data, bears are fretting that Morrisons’ glass is half empty.
They’re jittery about quoted food retailers full stop, despite the grocers’ defensive qualities during a downturn. At the beginning of the week, food groups collectively had lost almost 17 per cent of their value since the start of the year.
Anticipation of the Competition Commission’s final remedies document this week contributed to the uncertain mood, but was really only a sideshow to the main City debate: how long will the revivals of Morrisons and Sainsbury’s last and will Tesco’s “disappointing” Christmas prompt a savage counter-offensive by the market leader?
If squeezed shoppers shift to value, there’s no doubt who has the biggest war chest and a battle to preserve or extend share of a defensive sector could be bloody. Morrisons and Sainsbury’s are both trading on higher price earnings ratios than Tesco – which is also trading at a discount to its international peers – and analysts agonise that any upset could wipe out value at the two smaller companies.
Many brokers believe Tesco’s Christmas performance did not signal a serious setback to its long-term strength and they also like its international exposure, which should cushion any turbulence at home. So, although Tesco has taken a post-Christmas hit to its share price, it remains on buy lists.
There is no sign so far that Morrisons or Sainsbury’s are slowing down, but investors make their decisions by second-guessing the future. The successes of Marc Bolland and Justin King may be unrewarded by their share prices.
Private equity’s closed door
What do The Works, Dolcis and Elvi have in common, apart from the fact they’ve all gone bust? The answer is that they were all backed by private equity. The other thread linking them is that barely a squeak has been heard from the backers about the collapse of the retailers they funded.
You’d have more chance of talking to Lord Lucan than to Hermes Private Equity, Epic or Langholm Capital – the investors in each case. What happened to the new era of openness promised after private equity funds were subject to parliamentary scrutiny last year?
George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week