Friday , October 19 2018

Britain scrimps at department stores to fund holiday feasts

epa04558058 An exterior view of a branch of Morrisons supermarket in London, Britain, 13 January 2015. Dalton Philips, Morrisons chief executive, is stepping down from his position after the company announced poor Christmas performance.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA


Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc enjoyed a bumper Christmas season as UK consumers squeezed by inflation cut back on department-store spending to dress their Christmas tables in style.
The Bradford, England-based grocer’s sales during the holidays beat analyst estimates as consumers splashed out on items from its premium range, including French yule logs.
The shares rose as much as
4.7 percent in London.
“Consumers are conscious of inflation,” Chief Executive Officer David Potts said on a call with reporters. “Morrison’s customers were very savvy over Christmas, but they also wanted to spend on life’s little luxuries.”
Morrison’s sales growth suggests that the pain from Brexit-fuelled inflation was felt more severely in the UK’s shopping centres than in its grocery stores over Christmas. Weak holiday sales prompted profit warnings at department-store chain Debenhams Plc and infant-care retailer Mothercare Plc.
On a comparable basis, the country’s overall food sales rose 2.6 percent in the three months through December, whereas
nonfood sales fell 4.4 percent, according to the British Retail Consortium. Supermarket sales rose 3.8 percent in the 12 weeks through December 31, with growth led by Tesco Plc, researcher Kantar Worldpanel said.
“With inflation outpacing income growth, shoppers continued to see more of their spending power absorbed by essential items, including food, leaving less left over for buying Christmas gifts,” BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said. Morrison said sales of its premium range rose 25 percent and it held the price on a basket of core Christmas items unchanged from last year, raising prices on other products. UK grocers have been wrestling with cost pressure from the fall in the pound since the vote to leave the EU, which has made imports more expensive.
Same-store sales excluding fuel rose 2.8 percent in the 10 weeks ended on January 7, Morrison said. “Food sales are not as vulnerable to a consumer slowdown as clothing, but given the weak trading backdrop, Morrison’s Christmas trading figures are worthy of a cursory round of applause,” Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Laith Khalaf said.

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