Majestic Wine (WINE) investors were nursing a sore head on Thursday as the retailer plunged to a half-year loss three years into its supposed turnaround plan.
Majestic recorded a pre-tax loss of £200k in the six months to 31 October. Profits went backwards once more after it made £3.1m in an encouraging comparable period last year.
Majestic blamed the loss on investment in growth – particularly in new customer acquisition for its Naked Wines arm – and the “tough” and “sluggish” UK retail market.
Group revenues were up 5.4% to £229.1m representing underlying growth of 4.8%, primarily driven by 14% growth in Naked Wines sales to £75.7m in the period. However, this growth came at a cost, with Majestic investing £7.9m in new customer acquisition. Retail sales were up just 1.9% while its operating margin fell back, leading to a downgrade of the division’s forecast profit contribution to “flat at best”.
Majestic shares plunged 17.1% on the news to 310.5p by Thursday 22 November lunchtime, setting a new annual low of 305p in the process having been at 495p as recently as July.
Liberum downgraded the stock to ‘hold’, commenting that the “weak” performance of Majestic’s retail arm was a particular concerns given the warm summer weather should have supported first half growth.
“Management states that it’s ‘steady as she goes’ at Majestic right now,” Peel Hunt commented. “We’d say this was a rather ‘glass half full’ interpretation of the prevailing situation… The core retail business looks very fragile currently, with industry conditions extremely tough and no room for any price increases to be passed on to customers.”
There were also concerns that a number of KPIs in the growing Naked business were going backwards as sales retention rates and estimated payback periods both fell in the period.
Nonetheless, Edison Investment Research retained faith in the online division’s longer term prospects. “We expect the accelerated investment in Naked Wines to provide an attractive opportunity to reduce UK earnings exposure and accelerate online sales growth.”
Elsehwere, travel retail specialist SSP Group (SSPG) also plunged 8.4% on Tuesday to 627.5p after the surprise announcement of the departure of its highly thought-of CEO Kate Swann.
After five years at the helm, former WH Smith boss Swann will leave the group in May 2019 to be replaced by current UK & Ireland CEO Simon Smith. Her departure overshadowed a “record” set of annual results for the Upper Crust owner, which posted a 22.7% surge in full-year underlying operating profit and revenue growth of 9.5%.
“Ms Swann is certainly leaving the business in good shape,” said Shore Capital. “The greatest compliment we can pay Ms Swann is that, despite the announcement, our enthusiasm for SSP remains undimmed.”