The Week Ahead: Figures due from Morrisons, G4S, Argos, Homebase and French Connection

Morrisons is expected to report a sharp fall in profits on Thursday.

Morrisons is expected to report a sharp fall in profits on Thursday. - Credit: Archant

The impact of a tough year for supermarket group Morrisons and security giant G4S will be laid bare this week as both firms report annual results.

Morrisons will reveal a slide in profits on Thursday after a dismal year and as it faces the prospect of a full-scale price war among the “big four” players in the supermarket sector.

Larger rivals Tesco and Asda are leading an aggressive price cutting programme to tempt in cost-conscious shoppers and halt the exodus of customers to the likes of discount chains Aldi and Lidl.

Tesco unveiled plans for £200million of price cuts last week and said it would open 150 convenience stores a year under plans to halt falling UK sales. Asda, the UK’s second biggest supermarket behind Tesco, is launching a fight-back after seeing sales flat-line, recently pledging to spend £200m on price cuts and £750m in store revamps and new openings this year.

With Morrisons having already warned over profits after a hefty 5.6% drop in underlying sales over the key Christmas period ? a performance described as “quite awful” by one retail expert ? there are fears that its profit margins, which are already under pressure, could be hit further if it tries to compete in a price war.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank are forecasting a 13% slump in underlying annual pre-tax profits to £787mafter Morrisons warned results would come in towards the bottom end of its £783m to £853m forecast range.

However, there are some positives for the group, with its recent launch of a long-awaited online grocery service and the rapid expansion of its convenience store network.

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It will no doubt be pressed on early take-up of the online service, launched on January 10 in conjunction with Ocado, which has signed a 25-year deal to handle technology and operations, including delivering groceries through a Morrisons-liveried fleet.

Morrisons has also been in sharp focus recently amid reports the founding family behind the chain has sounded out private equity funds to assess their interest in taking the supermarket private.

It is believed the family, which still holds around 9.5% of the group, has contacted CVC Capital Partners and Carlyle Group, but that a buyout partner was proving elusive due to concerns about Morrisons’s sales growth and the size of the deal.

Scandal-hit security giant G4S will no doubt be hoping to draw a line under a dire past two years when it reports annual figures on Wednesday following a string of damaging blunders.

It was left reeling after it emerged that, together with rival Serco, it had overcharged the Ministry of Justice for electronically monitoring offenders, some of whom were found to be dead, back in prison or overseas.

The Government has since announced that the tagging contract will be handed to outsourcing competitor Capita at the end of the financial year, while G4S recently agreed to repay the Ministry of Justice £24.1m for the billing errors and has also forked out £2mn for investigation costs.

The crisis erupted after G4S had barely had time to recover from the Olympics fiasco, when it failed to provide all of its 10,400 contracted guards. Pre-tax profits dived by 32% to £175m in 2012 after the Olympics hit.

Results for 2013 are expected to reveal another sharp decline, with analysts at Exane BNP Paribas pencilling in a 13% drop in underlying earnings to £450m.

But new boss Ashley Almanza, who took over from former chief executive Nick Buckles in June after his predecessor came under fire for the botched handling of its Olympic Games contract, has outlined a major shake-up he hopes will get the group back on track.

Steve Woolf, an analyst at Numis Securities, said: “G4S has endured a torrid 18 to 24 months, and we look for this set of full-year results to bring this period to an end as the company begins its path back to growth.”

He added: “The long-term opportunities remain in place, but in the short-term the key lies with re-building the reputation and standing with some of its key customers.

Terry Duddy, the long-standing boss of Argos and Homebase owner Home Retail Group, will present his last set of figures for the on Thursday before he hands over the reins on March 14.

Mr Duddy, who will be succeeded by Argos managing director John Walden, is expected to bow out with another strong sales performance for the two retailers, having recently emerged as a festive winner after Argos enjoyed its best Christmas for 10 years.

The catalogue chain saw like-for-like sales jump 3.8% in the 18 weeks to January 4, with 46% of all sales made over the internet. Online trade was boosted by its popular check and reserve service allowing shoppers to collect items in store as well as a surge in the use of smartphones and tablets, accounting for a fifth of all sales.

Retail experts are forecasting little drop off in sales momentum in the fourth quarter, with Numis Securities pencilling in comparable sales growth of 3% for the eight weeks to the end of February.

Home Retail is also seen posting more robust figures for its DIY business Homebase as buoyant housing market conditions continue to drive sales. Homebase delivered a better-than-expected result over Christmas, with same store sales up 4.7% thanks to strong demand for “big ticket” items and Numis expects growth to have held up since, easing only slightly to 4%.

However, profit margins suffered in both its chains over Christmas, as consumer electrical and big ticket items are less profitable for the group.

Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, cautioned both divisions could again report reduced profit margins.

Fashion chain French Connection is set to post a sharp reduction in annual losses on Wednesday after reporting a better-than-expected Christmas sales performance thanks to turnaround efforts.

It confounded critics with the brighter update, having previously warned over results three times in two years.

The chain said last month that UK and European retail sales and profit margins were ahead of its expectations throughout December and January, while the wholesale order book was also strong.

It said the festive trading would help narrow pre-tax losses to around £4.7m for the year to January 31, down sharply from a £7.2m loss the previous year and lower than forecast in the market.

Freddie George, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, said French Connection was helped by its decision to hold back on heavy pre-Christmas discounting.

He added: “The company has made steady progress in implementing its strategy unveiled in September 2012, which involved improving price competitiveness, strengthening the ‘good’ ranges and improving efficiency in stores.”

French Connection has been leading an overhaul on a number of levels, selling off unprofitable shops and overhauling its management team while also improving its fashion ranges, stock control and in-store service.

It has started seeing shoppers warm towards its ranges following the appointment of a new design team, which made is mark with a well-received inaugural collection for the 2013 autumn season.

The company has 74 stores in the UK and Europe, as well as licensed and wholesale operations around the world, including Hong Kong and China.

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