To judge from some of the comments that followed M&S’s Christmas update last week, you’d think so. The retailer’s subsequent share crash brought the price to 387.75p and sages questioned whether the recovery had run out of steam.
M&S’s Christmas could certainly have been much merrier, but the post-mortem has generated more heat than light. Few would argue seriously that the business today is not far more robust, successful and well-positioned for future growth than it was when Sir Stuart Rose was parachuted in.
Even after last week’s downgrades, the likelihood is that M&S will notch up preliminary profits of£1 billion – the only British retailer other than Tesco to have made so much.
Rose admitted last week that the seasonal upset was partly self-inflicted. But the primary reason – as so many retailers know – was that trading conditions were the toughest in a decade.
Unfavourable comparisons have been made between M&S and Christmas “winners”, such as House of Fraser and Debenhams, but such analogies fail to take into account vastly different scales of business or comparative numbers.
The reality is that the post-update sell-off of M&S shares was as much a judgement on the retail industry’s prospects as it was on the high street bellwether. Quite simply, investors think there are easier and more rewarding pickings to be had in other business sectors.
As proprietor of a private store empire, Sir Philip Green is under no obligation to release his trading numbers. But, if he did, would the figures put M&S to shame? Probably not.
Rose, M&S’s white knight, may have been unseated from his charger temporarily, but the tournament is not over.
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“We gave our customers a great Christmas” is shaping up to be the favourite euphemism of the season. True as it may be, the phrase has been store chiefs’ preferred option for glossing over disappointments such as lacklustre sales.
Even the mighty Tesco trotted it out on Tuesday, as its Christmas numbers were compared unfavourably to rival Sainsbury’s. If only customers had appreciated retailers’ solicitousness enough to have given them a great Christmas in return.
George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week