Mike Coupe’s final results as Sainsbury’s (SBRY) boss firmly dispelled any notion the supermarket is finally “in the money” as a result of the coronavirus-induced grocery sales surge.
Although Sainsbury’s has enjoyed “high single digit percentage” grocery sales growth through the lockdown period, the wider results presentation played out to a more sombre tune.
The supermarket is facing £500m of extra costs as a result of the coronavirus crisis related to the expense of protecting customers and colleagues, weaker fuel, general merchandise and clothing sales and lower financial services profitability.
Despite stronger grocery sales and £450m of government business rates relief mitigating this hit, Sainsbury’s – unlike rival Tesco – put its final dividend on hold until there is “improved visibility on the potential impact of COVID-19”.
Sainsbury’s also revealed its bank will post a full-year loss in 2020 as a result of the weaker wider economy and increase in bed debts – however, it defied predictions it would have to pump money into its financial services business insisting it remains “well capitalised” with excess liquidity.
Despite these headwinds Sainsbury’s guided towards flat profits for the year to March 2021 after posting a 2% drop in underlying profit before tax to £586m for the 52 weeks to 7 March 2020.
Sainsbury’s shares fell back 4.6% on the news to 197.8p, having traded as high as 214.5p in early trading.
It’s a mistake to assume coronavirus is an out-and-out tailwind for supermarkets,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sophie Lund-Yates. “The outbreak has temporarily pushed customers down grocery aisles, and away from things like clothing and general merchandise. In the fullness of time sales should even out again, but the current disruption is masking some irksome underlying trends.”
In particular, Argos, which is a key plank to Sainsbury’s fightback against declining grocery margins, has suffered during the lockdown as the outbreak is expected to bring low teens percentage sales declines amid 573 stores being closed.
Bernstein’s Bruno Monteyne said he “struggled with the level of positivity on this year’s profits given the exposure to the bank and Argos”.
He added: “Whilst the 2020 profit outlook is quite encouraging comparatively speaking, by 2021 we will probably be back to declining profits given that business rates benefit falls out, but a weakened economy would still cause lower bank profits and discretionary retail spend will likely still be subdued.”
A more upbeat Barclay’s commented: “Although the dividend deferral may disappoint some, overall we are very encouraged by this statement. It is a major relief that Sainsbury’s sees no need to inject capital into the Bank and trading in Argos has so far comfortably exceeded our forecasts.”