Good morning!

There are some interesting announcements from large retailers today. It's worth checking these, to see how overall market conditions are faring.



Next (LON:NXT)

Share price: 5040p (down 3.3% today)
No. shares: 147.3m
Market cap: £7,423.9m

Every time I look at results from Next (LON:NXT) it reminds me just what a high quality business this is. The profit margin is spectacular. What this means, is that even when trading deteriorates, the business remains very strongly profitable. This is an important point to grasp, because at the opposite end of the spectrum people often buy poor quality retailers because they are on a low PER. However, profits can quickly turn into losses for low margin, poor quality retailers, in a downturn. Whereas a super-high margin business like Next can sail through a downturn with the bulk of its profits intact, because its operating margin is so high at around 20%. Even if it were to drop to 16%, you would still have a very profitable company.

Next describes current trading as "challenging and volatile". It is adding lots of new space, and with such good ROCE and short payback times, this makes a lot of sense. Continued share buybacks drive up EPS, even when profit is flat, or slightly down.

There are a number of headwinds though;

  • Struggling to recruit new customers for its credit offering.
  • As with all retailers, the cumulative impact of Living Wage is likely to hurt.
  • Rapidly growing online competition is relentlessly chipping away at the market share of traditional retailers.
  • Weaker sterling means cost prices rising next year.

For these reasons I'm reluctant to buy shares in Next, although on a PER of about 10-11, it's very tempting. The trouble is, it's difficult to see much future upside on profits. So as a mature business whose profits may have arguably peaked, perhaps the price is right?

Generally, I'm keeping away from opening any new positions in conventional retailers. I think online is gathering momentum at such a rate, that it's starting to seriously disrupt the sector. Companies like Boohoo.Com (LON:BOO) can dramatically undercut the High Street on pricing. A younger generation is increasingly happy buying frequently & cheaply online, which presents massive problems for conventional retailers.



Crawshaw (LON:CRAW)

Share price: 44.5p (down 39.5% today)
No. shares: 78.9m

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