Companies selling big ticket household items could be the first to cop a hit in a consumer spending slowdown as interest rates go up again in the new year, with the likes of JB Hi-FI and Harvey Norman likely to be in the eye of the storm.
While the nation has completed a record pre-Christmas spending splurge of $74.5 billion, with $1.2 billion spent on Boxing Day alone, according to data from the Australian Retailers Association and Westpac DataX, analysts are tipping conditions to get a lot tougher for the retail sector.
As stock watchers await the Reserve Bank’s February board meeting before making any calls on the health of the Australian consumer, many are predicting household-linked spending on bulkier purchases to slow.
Against this backdrop, retail analysts say youth-focused brands, companies that generate revenues overseas and independent grocery retailers are better placed to weather the tougher conditions, compared to sellers of furniture, white goods and homewares.
Morgan Stanley analysts warn that furniture sales, which have been highly elevated (up by about 30 per cent on pre-COVID levels last year), are vulnerable to a slowdown, especially if house prices continue to drop.
“Housing downturn years such as 2019 and 2012 usually coincide with declining furniture sales. Furniture purchases are also linked to home renovations which are typically carried out when house price growth is positive,” Morgan Stanley’s analyst team wrote in a report on the outlook for the consumer in 2023.
CoreLogic data released this week showed Australian property prices dropped overall in 2022, with Melbourne prices 8.3 per cent lower than their February 2022 peak, while the Sydney was 12.7 per cent below where it was in January.
“We would avoid exposure to big ticket and housing linked purchases which we expect will be disproportionately impacted in 2023,” Morgan Stanley’s analysts said.
Instead, the group said it favours consumer stocks that generate earnings overseas, like Domino’s Pizza or Treasury Wine Estates.
Predictions of falling house prices could put home goods retailers like Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi in a challenging spot this year – though the bosses of both of these businesses have told this masthead recently they are optimistic about their sectors into 2023.
Smaller furniture retailers like Nick Scali and Temple & Webster also noted last year that there was some uncertainty over trading conditions in the near future. However, there was optimism on display, with Temple & Webster reporting sales in November were trading slightly ahead of 2021, when COVID sales were surging.
MST Marquee’s Craig Woolford said last month that December quarter sales look strong across the sector, meaning that profit margins might look good when companies report first half results in February.
“Despite good sales and earnings, the worry about a sales downturn will prevent discretionary retail stocks from rising in our view,” he said in a note to clients.
However, industry experts are tipping some consumer brands to weather the storm because they offer goods that fit within shopper’s budgets regardless of the slowdown.
Morgans analysts say light fittings provider Beacon should be able to keep growing despite a slowing housing market, while youth-focused fashion retailer Universal Holdings is well-placed despite its shares being sold off over the past 12 months.
“ While we recognise the general risk [of deteriorating trading conditions], we also highlight that the youth demographic is likely to be more resilient, and we expect Universal to deliver growth in FY23 and FY24,” the Morgans retail team said in a note.
The next snapshot on national spending will come next Wednesday, January 11, when the Australian Bureau of Statistics will release retail trade data for November 2022.
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Source: Thanks smh.com