Investors were overjoyed on Tuesday when two of the canaries in the retail industry’s coal mine, Myer and Nick Scali, proved to be alive and already limbering up for recovery.
Both companies’ results demonstrate the Australian consumer still has a pulse, and that the market thinks it’s getting stronger.
Shares in retail stocks basked in the halo glow, forging upwards despite the negative lead from the broader market, with Nick Scali spearheading the run with a nose-bleeding 18 per cent climb. Others, such as Harvey Norman, Premier Investments, Super Retail and JB Hi-Fi joined in the share price party.
Myer’s share price gained 16 per cent as like-for-like sales held firm against last year’s record sales performance in the same period.
Investors had expected a discretionary retail sales disaster, and they had braced for the nadir in the half year to December 2023.
If Nick Scali and Myer are representative of the industry, then “as bad as it gets” isn’t all that bad.
Despite figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that paint a dire picture of discretionary spending (with retail sales down a diabolical 2.7 per cent in December), and consumer confidence metrics that support the same view, these two retailers have come through the cost-of-living mire and appear to be tunnelling out the other side.
In particular, Nick Scali’s performance improved in the second quarter, in which written sales rose more than 8 per cent compared with the second quarter last year.
Nick Scali’s performance is also particularly instructive because it is in the homewares segment, and it sells discretionary, big-ticket items.
Retailers in the big-ticket whitegoods sector – also under pressure – will always experience some buying support if a fridge or a washing machine breaks down because replacing such items can be essential for some consumers.
And fashion retailers are arguably less vulnerable because they sell smaller or lower-cost items.
But Nick Scali’s better-than-expected performance suggests that big-ticket and super discretionary items have not dropped off the Australian consumer’s shopping list – even though they are often driven by home renovation, which has fallen away thanks to elevated construction costs.
A few weeks ago Super Retail updated the market that its sales over the Christmas and new year period had held up reasonably well, gaining 3 per cent although only marginally ahead on a like-for-like basis.
Investors appeared to respond with disproportionate enthusiasm, pushing the shares up more than 5 per cent.
While Nick Scali’s sales and gross margins held up well, its profit for the period was down 29 per cent against the same period last year – an outcome that the market brushed off because the earnings were still better than it had anticipated.
Similarly, Myer has guided to a profit for the six-month period covering Christmas that will be $49 million to $53 million – well down on the $65 million it reached in the previous corresponding period.
Its outgoing chief executive John King had clearly prepared for a softer 2023 Christmas trading by reducing inventory.
But discretionary retailers and investors understand that the real shot in the arm needed to kickstart sales is a decline in interest rates.
Tuesday’s decision by the Reserve Bank to keep rates on hold is the next best thing.
While the RBA didn’t rule out the possibility of having to raise rates again, its commentary supported the data that goods inflation is moving down at a decent pace, even if services inflation remains somewhat recalcitrant.
That said, there is nothing in the RBA commentary that will really dampen economists’ predictions that rates will begin to fall by the end of the calendar year.
And there is nothing that will alter the view that a retail recovery is ahead – at least in the medium term.
Source: Thanks smh.com