Whither Tesco’s famed landbank? OK, Landbanski it is not (Tesco’s balance sheet remains awesome even after incurring £1.2bn from closing Fresh & Easy), but an £804m writedown on its property portfolio this week will have major ramifications not only for Tesco’s future growth in the UK, but for property developers, the housing market, local communities and other supermarket chains, which will surely need to re-examine their own property pipeline valuations.
But what of Tesco’s turnaround plans? While Q4 growth was hailed as the best in three years, the ‘Horsegate’ crisis has lost it some of the momentum it appeared to be gaining coming out of Christmas. And, as we report, it’s behind schedule in its store refreshment programme - a slowdown presumably to limit the damage to its UK bottom line (already down 8%), as the losses worsened in Central Europe, Asia and the bank.
“It’s unfortunate for Philip Clarke that the Tesco fleet appears to be developing new holes quicker than he can plug existing ones”
Adam Leyland, Editor
It’s unfortunate for CEO Philip Clarke that the Tesco fleet appears to be developing new holes quicker than he can plug existing ones, and with trouble on so many seas, Tesco has not been in a position to pick off some of the bargains on offer in certain growth economies, but he is right to focus his attention first on the UK mothership.
The concern for investors must be over the absence of a clear growth story. It’s all a bit bitty. For example, with Andrew Yaxley running the London stores, might ships start running into one another? And while some new initiatives, like One Stop, Giraffe, Harris + Hoole are genuinely innovative, they are sub-scale. (Even online, up 13%, only accounts for 4% of sales.) I know every little helps etc., but they could end up costing the executive team valuable time.
And time is in short supply. Clarke has been at the helm over two years now, and after a laissez-faire start, has made decisions at pace. But still the surprises come. And the situation is not dissimilar for Marc Bolland at M&S, and Dalton Philips at Morrisons, both still struggling to find answers to problems that were actually apparent for some time. The only difference is, they’ve had a year longer to figure it out. Or not.