Primark sales rise, UK and US are strong but European markets prove tough
The owner of Primark – Associated British Foods – issued a trading update on Thursday ahead of its full-year results and while sales remain strong, it's clear that the budget-focused retailer is being affected by the cost of living crisis and other issues.
The company said total sales for the financial year should be some £7.7 billion. At constant currency that’s 40% ahead of reported sales last year and 44% ahead on a comparable 52-week basis. This reflects the end of pandemic restrictions “and the resumption of more normal customer behaviour”.
Like-for-like Q4 sales “were in line with” Q3. That means “continued improvement in our performance in the UK market was offset by a weaker than expected performance in Continental Europe”. Yet total Q4 sales should still be 7% higher than last year, on a comparable 52-week basis. This will be driven by increased selling space and like-for-like growth of 6%.
Yet the firm still lags the pre-Covid period and like-for-like sales for the quarter will be 9% down on three years ago.
It had expected an improvement in Continental European that didn’t happen and that means a full-year adjusted operating profit margin for Primark of 9.6% and a second half adjusted operating profit margin of 8%. It also said volatility in the new financial year means it will likely lag that 8% figure in the period.
Q4 trading in the UK was buoyant with sales densities “much improved on the third quarter driven by like-for-like sales 13% ahead of last year and just below pre-Covid levels”.
It saw higher customer footfall across the estate and, in particular, “customers returning to high streets and city centres”.
That helped its share of the total UK clothing, footwear and accessories market by value for the 12 weeks to late July to be “broadly in line with pre-Covid levels”. Given that the share figures for its peers include online sales — while Primark doesn’t sell online — that’s a good result.
It also said the Republic of Ireland “continued to be strong with like-for-like sales consistently close to pre-Covid levels”.
But what about that disappointing mainland Europe performance? The company’s been seeing signs of “customer caution relating to spend in all markets”. This means Q4 total sales (adjusted to a comparable 52-week basis) will be ‘only’ 5% ahead of last year, with a 4% growth in selling space and 1% like-for-like sales rise.
Compared to pre-Covid levels three years ago, like-for-like sales were behind by 18% and across European markets, Q4 footfall failed to improve.
In Iberia, quarterly sales densities”were much improved” on last year when Covid restrictions constrained domestic demand and resulted in low levels of tourism. But this year was dented by the extreme heatwave and data shows that the overall apparel market in Iberia remains below pre-pandemic levels.
In France too, the total retail clothing sector has continued to trade behind pre-pandemic figures, “without the expected step-up in customer footfall, particularly in the Paris outskirts where we have a concentration of stores and where we believe sales have lagged the rest of the country,” Primark said.
In Germany, sales densities “have not returned to pre-Covid levels and so in coming months we will review options for further action to reposition our business for success in this important market,” the company explained without giving further details.
In Italy, there was better news as total Q4 sales increased 20% year on year “with enthusiastic customer reaction to the four new stores opened during the year”.
The US also remains buoyant and total Q4 sales should be around 27% ahead of pre-Covid levels, driven by new store openings, with like-for-like sales close to pre-Covid levels.
The company continues to open new stores and has added 0.4 million sq ft of trading space in this financial year. It will open another three before year-end too (in Czechia, Ireland and Spain), with a New York store due early in its next financial year.
It added that its new UK website has been live since April and key metrics, such as traffic and engagement, have steadily built from a strong start. The new stock-checker facility is being “enthusiastically adopted”.
Looking ahead to the next financial year, it expects sales growth to be driven by the increase in retail selling space and like-for-like growth resulting from both the price increases implemented for AW22 and those planned for SS23.
But it won’t be introducing further price increases. It explained that “in recent weeks the US dollar has strengthened significantly against sterling and the euro, and energy costs remain volatile and higher. Against this current volatile backdrop and a context of likely much reduced disposable consumer income, we have decided not to implement further price increases next year beyond those already actioned and planned. We believe this decision is in the best interests of Primark and supports our core proposition of everyday affordability and price leadership”.
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