Westpac exposed. Earlier this month Westpac was the first of the big four banks to sting mortgage holders by charging them more to help meet the cost of the higher capital levels for big banks as demanded by regulators — and Westpac also indicated its final dividend would rise 2 cents a share to 96 cents a share, thereby sticking it to mortgage holders a second time in the one statement, which was quite an achievement. Fast forward to this week and ANZ and NAB released their full-year profits, which were OK. But both NAB and ANZ declared unchanged final dividends — 99 cents for NAB and 95 cents for ANZ. These were decisions that seem to be carrying two messages: the first is that the outlook is uncertain thanks to the higher demands for capital from regulators and the weak economy and slowing housing boom. But there’s also a PR image factor — after stinging mortgage holders last week, both banks have given the impression shareholders will pay a small part of the cost of the higher capital demands from regulators, unlike Westpac and its 2-cents-a-share lift in its final dividend. Westpac is due to confirm those results on Monday, so will that proposed rise appear? — Glenn Dyer
Dick doesn’t. The board and newish management of Myer must be raising a bacon roll (more than 50 grams of bacon, folks, come on, live dangerously, you have been doing just that for years) to the management of Dick Smith, the electronics retailer, for its sterling efforts in becoming the new black sheep of Australian retailing and replacing Myer in that role. Dick Smith shares ended down 34% at 84 cents yesterday, a record low and taking losses so far this year to 58%. The shares are now trading at less than half their December 2013 issue price of $2.20 (shades of Myer, which floated at $4.10 and ended at 97.5 cents yesterday). Dick Smith’s private equity owners, Anchorage Capital, sold out at $2.20. Kaching!
Out of the blue yesterday, Dick Smith said in its first-quarter sales report that first-half profit would be down around 15% — or $5 million to $8 million below its previous guidance of $45 million to $48 million and analyst forecasts around $45.3 million. Dick Smith managing director Nick Abboud said that while total sales rose 6.9% and same-store sales by 1.3% in the three months to September, the company’s gross profit margins were squeezed by discounting and unfavourable product and channel mix (That means the extra sales done online were made at smaller profit margins — online margins are skinnier than through the old-fashioned bricks and mortar stores.) Why the slide? Well, Dick Smith did stop discounting Apple products just as the new iPhone 6 model was released. Great move. Dick Smith was a serial underperformer for Woolworths (which releases its first-quarter sales figures today), now it’s a world-class performer in its own right. — Glenn Dyer
Move over, Dick Smith. Just as we were celebrating Dick Smith’s sterling effort yesterday to push Myer from retailing’s naughty corner and deepest black hole, along comes the industry leader, Woolies, this morning with a high-class entry of its own — a 2.5% slide in sales for the third quarter (first quarter for the company’s 2105-15 financial year) and a warning of a profit slump of up to 35%. As I said, its a high-class performance. Woolies says profits for the six months to December could be between $900 million and $1 billion (which is still a lot of money), while it spends $500 million cutting grocery prices and trying to convince shoppers that Woolies is a price chopper, not booster. Sales in its Aussie supermarkets and grog shops fell 1% in the three months to October 4, which followed a 0.9% fall in the June quarter.
In New Zealand, same-store sales (that’s for outlets open at least one year) rose 2.5% (another Kiwis-do-better-than-Aussies story!). The in-house black hole for Woolies was the Big W mid-range department store chain which had an 8.1% slide in same-store sales in the latest quarter after an 11.7% slump in the June quarter. The struggling hardware business had a 20% rise in topline sales as a new store was opened and some existing stores converted to a new format. But it is still losing money. Woolies warned that, as a consequence of its heavy investment into prices and stores, group net profit before significant items was expected to fall between 28% and 35% to between $900 million and $1 billion. Last week Coles reported a 3.6% increase in September quarter same-store food and liquor sales, not to mention strong sales gains for Bunnings, Officeworks, Kmart and even the struggling target department store chain. This is a problem of Woolies’ own making, as is Dick Smith’s slide. Sliding same-store sales is a very slow and painful death for a retailer. There’s a new chairman and board members and it is looking for a new CEO, so there’s more pain to come and a lower dividend. — Glenn Dyer