Hard-pressed retailers outperformed the All Share index as the first week of trading updates brought few nasty surprises.
The BRC reported a 1.4 per cent fall in total retail sales in December, when like-for-likes slid 3.3 per cent. It was the worst Christmas month in the 14-year history of the survey.
Broker Investec questioned whether the findings were overly gloomy because the impact of last month’s VAT cut was unclear. The broker said: “It is not obvious that the 1 per cent deterioration in the total sales run rate from November to December implies a worsening in the underlying run rate. It could be argued that it has actually improved.”
KBC Peel Hunt was pleased by the lack of big profit warnings. “Regardless of the low expectations that media coverage and retail failures have set, our forecasts have remained little changed so far,” the broker observed.
Proof of how tough trading remains came on Monday, when the springs finally went on sofa specialist Land of Leather and the administrators were called in. Its failure leaves Carpetright as the only remaining big-ticket home specialist listed on the stock market.
On Wednesday, troubled sports retailer JJB revealed that its expects to lose between£5m and£10m in the year ending January 25. Chairman Sir David Jones, who assumed executive responsibilities at the start of January, and executive director Peter Williams are reviewing the business and are “determined” to make the retailer a success again.
JJB was also embroiled in controversy over the transfer of shares held by chief executive Chris Ronnie to the administrators of Icelandic bank Kaupthing.
Despite JJB’s difficulties, long-standing bull Panmure Gordon retained its buy advice. Singer Capital Markets put the stock under review and said: “Potentially there is a lot of upside if Sir David Jones and Peter Williams can sort out the mess.”
A mess was also developing at AIM-listed Ideal Shopping Direct. Founders Paul Wright and Val Kaye are attempting to oust board members including chairman David Williams and exert greater influence themselves.
Broker Bernstein was reassured by latest TNS grocery data showing “robust” industry growth in December, although Tesco and Sainsbury’s both underperformed the market in that period.
Morrisons, the only big grocer not yet to have updated, reveals Christmas numbers on Thursday. Electricals group Kesa Electricals and e-tailer Asos will also post their seasonal performances.