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UK footfall came within 10% of pre-pandemic levels for the first time in September, despite mounting pressure on consumer spending.

According to the BRC-Sensormatic IQ Footfall Monitor, total UK footfall decreased by 9.8% in September compared to three years ago, a 2.6%pt improvement from August.

This 9.8% reduction is also better than the three-month average decline of 11.4%.

Footfall on High Streets declined by 11.9% in September, 1.7%pts better than last month’s rate and an improvement on the three-month average decline of 13.0%.

Retail Parks saw footfall decrease by 2.5%, up 1.6%pts from last month, while shopping centre footfall declined by 22.7%, which was unchanged.

England again saw the shallowest footfall decline of all regions at -7.9%, followed by Wales at -8.7%. Scotland and Northern Ireland saw the joint steepest decline at -13.4%.

Compared to 2021, total footfall increased by 8.0%; high streets by 12.9%, retail parks by 0.4% and shopping centres by 17.3%.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson commented: “Footfall reached its highest level since the onset of the pandemic, coming within 10% of its pre-pandemic levels. High Streets and Retail Parks saw an improvement in shopper numbers, while Shopping Centres continued to lag significantly behind, still more than a fifth down from three years ago.

“Shopping Centres continue to see higher vacancy rates than other locations, with many not have recovered from the loss of key anchor stores such as Debenhams, which went into liquidation during the pandemic.

“These figures belie the collapse in consumer confidence which has resulted in falling sales volumes throughout the year. Meanwhile, soaring cost inflation is leading to upwards pressure on prices. The recent mini budget failed to provide retailers with clarity on the future of business rates, already a massive cost. Without action, retailers could face a 10% rise in their rates bill – equal to an additional £800m across the industry.

“While the energy support for businesses has been warmly welcomed by companies, a freeze to business rates, with the promise of further reform, would go a long way to restoring business confidence and supporting future investment, as well as offering retailers a means to cut prices for their customers.”

Andy Sumpter, Retail Consultant EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, added: “While total UK retail saw footfall recovery rise to its highest point this year compared to pre-pandemic levels in September, boosted in part by Back-To-School trading at the beginning of the month, retailers won’t be looking at High Street performance through rose-tinted glasses.

“With all eyes turning towards the Golden Quarter, perhaps with a starker air of caution given the financial turbulence seen over the last few weeks and higher energy bills starting to hit consumers from October, many are already downgrading Christmas trading forecasts amid shaky consumer confidence. And this means that amongst the usual pressures of preparing for peak, retailers will need to think hard about how they can support – and deliver value to - an increasingly cautious cost-of-living shopper during what will be a critical trading period.”

Morning update

Pub group JD Wetherspoon has fallen to a £30m loss as revenues remained below pre-pandemic levels.

Like-for-like sales were down 4.7% in the 53 weeks ending 31 July compared to pre-pandemic 2019, with revenues down 4.3% to £1.74bn.

Its loss before tax was £30.4m compared to a pre-pandemic profit of £102.5m.

After exceptional items pre tax profits were £26.3m, compared to £95.4m.

The figures, however, represent a strong rebound from revenues falling to £773m in 20/21 and a pre-tax loss of £155m.

Chairman Tim Martin commented: “In the first 9 weeks of the current financial year, to 2 October 2022, like-for-like sales increased by 10.1%, compared to the 9 weeks to 3 October 2021.

“The company has improved its prospects in a number of ways in recent financial years - we own an increasing percentage of freehold properties; the balance sheet has been strengthened; interest rates have been fixed at low levels until 2031; we have a large contingent of long-serving pub staff and underlying sales are improving.

“However, as a result of the previously reported increases in labour and repair costs and the potentially adverse effects of rises in interest rates and energy costs on the economy, firm predictions are hard to make.”

Elsewhere, Imperial Brands has kicked off its share buyback programme announced yesterday, instructing broker Credit Suisse to buy back an initial £500m of its shares commencing today.

It intends to initially to repurchase up to £1 billion of shares in the period from 7 October 2022 to the end of September 2023.

Greencore Group has announced it has completed its £10 million share buyback programme that commenced on 26 July.

On 24 May 2022, it announced its intention to recommence value return of up to £50m over the following two years, initially in the form of the £10m share buyback programme.

Since then it has bought 1.4m ordinary shares for cancellation at a weighted average price of 87.7p.

Finally, Kerry Group has announced it has reached agreement to increase its joint venture stake in Proparent, the 100% owner of Ojah – the Dutch manufacturer of texturised plant-based proteins.

Having initially purchased a 55% stake in 2018, Kerry will increase its holding to 75% for an incremental consideration of €20m in line with terms agreed at the time of the initial investment.

Thomas Ahlinder, President & CEO Kerry Europe commented “The partnership with Ojah has delivered excellent growth thanks to its high-quality offering. Kerry has unique expertise in addressing the multitude of complexities in delivering taste, nutrition, and functionality combined with sustainable plant protein substrates, thereby supporting our customers in providing differentiated solutions that address the needs of a dynamic consumer base”.

On the markets this morning, the FTSE 100 has edged down another 0.1% to 6,989.8pts.

Risers include Science in Sport, up 6.3% to 17p, Bakkavor, up 3.3% to 95p and SSP Group, up 2.4% to 202.6p.

Fallers include McBride, down 4.4% to 22.7p, Just Eat, down 4.2% to 1,316.4p and Ocado, down 2.6% to 446.6p.

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 fell another 0.8% to dip below 7,000pts again to close at 6,997.2pts.

Imperial Brands rose 2.5% to 1,944p after announcing a £1bn share buyback programme to give back cash to shareholders.

Other risers included Hotel Chocolat, up 5.3% to 129p, McBride, up 5.1% to 23.8p, Hilton Food Group, up 4% to 621p, Just Eat, up 3.2% to 1,374p, Imperial Brands, up 2.5% to 1,944p, Deliveroo, up 2.4% to 88.6p and THG, up 2.3% to 37.5p.

The day’s fallers included Science in Sport, down 3% to 16p, B&M European Value Retail, down 2.9% to 310.2p, Greencore, down 2.1% to 72.9p, Diageo, down 1.4% to 3,728.5p and Associated British Foods, down 1.3% to 1,257.5p.