Retailers Go Well, Shares Down

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

It was a common story in yesterday's profit reporting flurry.

Good results, moderate results and poor results copped equal treatment; the shares were sold off to varying degrees.

It makes the reception for the JB Hi-Fi record result on Tuesday look an aberration, with the shares rising 12% on a 56% rise in profit; just as a 63% rise in earnings for Leighton Holdings (which, like JBH was above guidance) was punished with the shares shedding around 4%, or $2.

Leighton lost another $1 yesterday, JBH lost just 16c.

Fellow retailers, The Reject Shop (TRS) and Noni B were both punished yesterday for reporting solid figures.

The Reject Shop is Australia's pioneering discount chain in the so-called '$2' category, the 'mini majors" as one retail analyst has christened them.

It said yesterday that net earnings jumped 35.8% in 2007 to $12.29 million, and expected earnings to again rise this financial year by around 20%.

The Company says it is looking for 2008 net profit after tax to range between $14.8 million and $15.0 million.

Group's net profit for 2007 rose to $12.296 million with topline sales up 18.3% to $280.5 million and same store sales up a very good 8.4%. The company opened 22 new stores during 2007 and a further 20 will be opened in the 2008 financial year.

The company said that the latest result marked its sixth consecutive year of double digit growth.

The company also maintained: "Gross margin remained steady during the year, demonstrating a commitment to maintaining price competitiveness, contributing to strong sales during the year.

"Operating costs decreased as a percentage of sales, despite the costs incurred in opening the new distribution centre and absorbing the initial opening costs associated with the accelerated new stores in the second half."

The Reject Shop declared a fully franked final dividend of 14 cent a share, bringing the full year ordinary dividend to 31 cents a share compared to 30.5 cents a share the year prior. (The 2006 result included a special 7.5c a share payment.)

There's a small irony here. The chairman of the TRS is Brian Beattie, a former senior executive of Coles Myer.

The former CEO, Barry Saunders, was a former executive at Myer and then Big W which is part of Woolworths and his replacement, Gerry Masters, is a former Coles executive, so they obviously know something the present management at Coles doesn't. And what might that be?

How to sell to Australians.

But regardless of the quality of the result, the shares were sold off to $12.20.The shares had run up strongly in late July on rumours of a takeover offer. A query from the ASX produced news of an upgrade in earnings and the shares then eased.

And it was a similar story for small NSW-based women's fashion retailer, Noni B.

It produced a 0.6% rise in full year profit to $8.264 million, which was above its guidance for a result between $7.4 million and $8.2 million.

That guidance came in April when the company indicated that sales and earnings had been hurt by the dry, warm autumn

"Following an 11 per cent increase in after-tax profit for the first half of FY2007, the company currently expects that its after-tax profit for FY2007 will be between $7.4 million and $8.2 million (FY2006: $8.2 million)," the company said.

That led to the assumption by investors that the company would find it hard to match the 2006 rise of just over 10% and would probably report flat to lower earnings.

Well the second half was flat but the company managed to eke out a small rise, based on the strong first half.

The experience of the June half has made the conservatively-run company even more conservative about forecasting for the first half of the 2008 year.

"At this early stage, we remain cautious about first half performance due to the soft economic conditions in New South Wales, the continuing effect of the drought on rural incomes, and the possible impact of the general election on consumer spending," managing director Alan Kindl said.

"Demand for our new season's collections, however, is encouraging, especially in Western Australia and Queensland."

Noni B runs chains with a number of brand names, including Noni B, Liz Jordan and La Voca brands. It said sales rose 7% to $123.8 million.

"These results were achieved in a difficult market, especially in New South Wales where over 40 per cent of the company's stores are based," it said.

Mr Kindl said colder weather in the second half of fiscal 2007 had resulted in a creditable result, following a disappointing performance in the third quarter.

During the year, Noni B opened 22 stores, refurbished 13 stores, re-branded six stores and launched its new La Voca brand.

At June 30, there were 15 La Voca stores, and a further four are scheduled to open by Christmas.

"While this is a long-term strategy which may take up to three years to make a significant profit contribution, customer traffic flow is encouraging, average spend is higher than in Noni B stores and in line with expectations, and there are good grounds for optimism," Mr Kindl said.

Noni B declared a final dividend of 10 cents for the year ended July 1, up from nine cents in the same period last year. That made a total for the year of 19 cents, including a special dividend of 10 cents paid last November.

Non-B shares fell 22c to $4.19, well down from its 52-week highs.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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