Sainsbury’s share price is lower this morning after the company revealed a 0.7% fall in total retail sales for the third quarter, while the consensus estimate was only for a decline of 0.3%. 

Online sales offset decline in general merchandise sales

While clothing sales grew by 4.4%, it was the general merchandise division which let the side down, as sales fell by 3.9%. Competition in the grocery industry continues to be tough, which is evident as Sainsbury’s revealed a 0.4% rise in grocery sales in the three-month period. Online grocery sales increased by 7.3% however, which ties in with the wider embrace of e-commerce, as the firm confirmed that 20% of total sales in this quarter were carried out online.

The Argos division had its best Black Friday in terms digital sales, and sales via the click and collect app reached a record. The poor performance of the general merchandise area can’t be overlooked though, but at least the retailer is deriving more of its revenue online, which should stand the company in good stead in the long-run.

Disappointing first half

In October, the group revealed an underwhelming set of first-half figures. Pre-tax profit fell by more than 90% to £9 million, with one-off costs at nearly £230 million. The earnings figure that excludes one-off items only fell by 14.6% to £238 million, and that was largely in line with the company’s guidance. The phasing out of cost savings and a rise in marketing expenses were blamed for the drop in earnings. In a bid to keep shareholders onside, the interim dividend was given a small boost. Net debt was lowered, while the cashflow rose by 13%.

The supermarket is adapting to the changes of consumer habits, as the fast-track delivery and collection service is growing. Sainsbury’s unsuccessful merger attempt with Asda has meant the group will have to find other ways of gaining an edge in the increasingly competitive supermarket sector. The firm was hoping to reap the benefits of economies of scale in relation to the Asda proposal, but in the end the failed transaction hit its bottom line.

Sainsbury's and Argos stores revamp

In September, the company announced plans to close down stores that were not meeting the mark, and the intention is to open new shops in more suitable locations. In terms of the Argos business, somewhere between 60 and 70 stores were earmarked for closure, while the opening of 80 new outlets was mapped out. For Sainsbury’s, more than 100 new shops will be opened, but 30-40 convenience stores will be shut. These sort of tactics have been all too common in the sector in recent years, as margins are under pressure from low-cost competitors, as well as online shopping, so companies must use their capital efficiently.

The restructuring in terms of stores should be a short-term loss and long-term gain as the group will take of hit of £230-£ 270 million. In the same update, the supermarket giant said its new debt reduction target was at least £750 million, while the old forecast was £600 million. When a sector is feeling the pinch it's important that players in the industry have nimble balance sheets, as groups that are highly leveraged find themselves under attack from short sellers.

Can the Sainsbury's share price retest 240p?

The Sainsbury’s share price has been broadly moving higher since mid-August, and should the bullish move continue it could retest the 240p area.

 

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