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Disappointing Christmas sales expected to reinforce changing consumer habits.

CMC Markets

This week’s record sales for John Lewis appear to have set the tone for this week’s trading updates from high street bellwethers, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. The main takeaway appears to be the continued growth of on line shopping and the increased popularity of “click and collect” services. The unseemly scrum that was “Black Friday” certainly helped John Lewis in this regard, as did its food division in the form of Waitrose, but while sales grew sharply it remains to be seen what the cost was in relation to the company’s margins. While John Lewis appears to have done well from the pre-Christmas shopping bonanza it remains to be seen as to whether Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s will have performed equally as well, but with expectations so low we could see a surprise to the upside. Marks and Spencer is expected to report mixed numbers with its food division once again doing the heavy lifting, while its general merchandise is likely to see sales fall from a year ago, largely as a result of the milder autumn, though the pre-Christmas cold spell may well have seen sales pick up, in the same way they did for Next when they reported at the end of last week. Of particular interest this week will be the trading updates from the big supermarkets given this week’s revelation that Lidl managed to sell more champagne than milk over the Christmas period. Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s are expected to announce a fall in like for like sales over the Christmas period as Aldi and Lidl not only continue to eat their lunch, but also appear to be scoffing their dinner as well, bringing an end to an awful year for the UK’s biggest food retailers, with the prospect that 2015 is likely to be equally as tough. Tesco’s in particular will be in focus given that we will also get to hear from new CEO Dave Lewis about some of the company’s restructuring plans, against a backdrop of a disappointing set of Christmas numbers. There is speculation that Mr Lewis could announce the sale of Blinkbox, its streaming video service as well as the possible disposal of its Asian business. We could also get details of a plan to offload some of its property assets after yet another profits warning last month. The sudden change in consumer shopping habits has made the likelihood of large new stores being built much less likely, meaning that Tesco’s amongst others is likely to be forced to offload some of this recently acquired land to free up spare cash. The plus side is that there should be plenty of ready buyers in the form of house builders who are looking for extra land to build the thousands of extra houses needed to help solve the UK’s housing crisis. Management reaction to the latest trading update as well as last year’s profit warnings is likely to be key, given that confidence surrounding the company remains extremely fragile in light of recent events, and as such this week's announcement by Dave Lewis the new CEO is likely to be closely analysed. Despite all its problems Tesco remains the UK's number one grocery retailer with about 28% of the grocery market, but it appears to have over reached itself and that share of the market has fallen 2.7% in the last 12 months alone, which suggests that we could see that market share fall further. The big question now being asked by shareholders, who have endured a torrid twelve months, is whether we’ve seen the lows in the current down move, or whether we look set for further losses given that both Sainsbury and Tesco are both trading just above their multi year lows, having lost 37% and 45% of their value since the beginning of 2014. This week is therefore important in the context that it could well set the tone for the rest of the year for this beleaguered sector, which while bad news for shareholders could well be good news for consumers. The material (whether or not it states any opinions) is for general information purposes only, and does not take into account your personal circumstances or objectives. Nothing in this material is (or should be considered to be) financial, investment or other advice on which reliance should be placed. No opinion given in the material constitutes a recommendation by CMC Markets or the author that any particular investment, security, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person.

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