My impression is that Christmas trading is as cold as the weather. Over many years I have learned that trading over the months leading up to December are a strong guide, and this year has been weak.
My sense is that footfall has been relatively weak. And that footfall is never shared equally, or even proportionately. Visiting stores today. John Lewis is reasonably busy. If its footfall is 100, M&S stands at around 75. I estimate Debenhams at c35 and House of Fraser at c20. I spend lots of time walking stores throughout the year and in a variety of locations. I would say these relationships are not too different from the rest of the year, except M&S’s footfall is materially higher now – a slightly better Christmas might be on the cards for them.
Meanwhile, today we learn that inflation is up to 3.1%. This tells us something about what the retail results season might look like as 2018 unfolds, and it wont be good. Over this period the pound has devalued by c15%. The fact that retail has only managed to increase prices by some 20% of this figure underlines just how pressured the industry is right now. Some of the cost will have been shoved back up the supply chain to suppliers but this has product quality implications. How many retailers can risk reducing the quality of what they sell?
We have already seen signs of industry stress in recent weeks with some administrations, some credit insurance worries and stories about cash flow concerns. However weak Christmas trading is, this will still be the cash flow peak for most retailers. These stress levels can only increase in Q1 2018.
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