First quarter like-for-like (LFL) sales, excluding fuel, rose 2.7%, compared to 5.7% this time last year, and 9.0% last quarter. The slowdown partly reflects difficult comparisons, because of previous lockdowns and the start of the pandemic.
The group is on track to deliver underlying pre-tax profit of over £431m for the full year.
Morrison said it plans to "refresh" its dividend and capital allocation plans, and will give more details at half year results in September.
The shares were broadly flat following the announcement.
The number that pops off the page is Morrison's skyrocketing online sales.
Therein lies the group's biggest opportunity. Last quarter, digital sales (which includes morrisons.com and Morrisons on Amazon) were up 113%. At the last count, capacity was up fivefold. This enormous growth is largely because Morrison's online business is smaller than rivals, which leaves room for more exceptional growth.
The long-term growth lever has been accelerated because the pandemic's acted as a catalyst for the shift to online shopping. This means there could be exciting times ahead for this underdog, especially because the online business is now profitable. There are currently enough sales rattling through warehouses to offset the expensive fixed costs. The question now is if Morrison's can keep a firm grasp on that momentum, or if it left digital investment too late and risks being permanently outshone by bigger rivals.
The picture in the core store business is a little mixed. We're starting to see sales slow down quite significantly. That's largely because we're lapping earlier stages of the pandemic, but the extent of the slowdown could also be a sign of difficulty. Sales were lacklustre before the pandemic.
Morrison's is focussed on a volume-led approach, as it continues to cut prices. This isn't a new tactic, but is one that requires a high number of sales, or the already thin margins could suffer. As shopping habits continue to normalise, this could put a tight lid on profits.
With the recent sale of Asda and an all-round uber-competitive environment, it's unlikely pricing pressure is going to ease. We've been encouraged by recent market share gains, and the impressive boost from higher food-on-the-go sales, but we'd like proof Morrison's popularity can be sustained.
The Wholesale business, which has been quietly expanding, offers an alternative source of revenue, helping cushion some of the blows in general retail. And the group has prudently managed finances - most stores are owned, not leased, which helps the balance sheet. In the past this has meant special dividends for shareholders, and these returns to shareholders could be back on the menu at the half year. No dividend is ever guaranteed though.
Ultimately, we're impressed by the progress Morrison's is making. Its underdog status means it could offer exciting growth opportunities, especially as the price to earnings ratio is lower than the long-term average. Although this also probably reflects the market's concerns about Morrison's less competitive position. We think Morrison has long-term potential, but investors need to be prepared to accept some extra risk.
Morrison key facts
- Forward P/E ratio: 12.9
- 10 year average forward P/E ratio: 14.1
- Prospective yield (next twelve months): 5.0%
Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn't be looked at on their own - it's important to understand the big picture.
First quarter trading details
Total sales, excluding fuel, rose 3.3%, with 0.5% coming from new space. Performance was boosted by "successful" Mother's Day and Easter trading. Food-to-go sales have increased, and Morrison said people are cooking at home more. Morrison decided not to pass on higher commodity and freight costs to customers.
Online sales, which includes morrisons.com and Morrisons on Amazon, rose 113% in the period.
Wholesale contributed 1.1% to group LFLs, which is equivalent to a 21% increase in Wholesale LFL. That reflects the previously announced deal to supply a further 230 McColl's stores, and 25 McColl's stores were converted to Morrisons Daily.
Including fuel sales, group like-for-like (LFL) sales were up 4.7%, which is much better than last year, and up on last quarter's 0.7% growth. Fuel sales are almost back at pre-pandemic levels.
During the quarter, Morrison incurred £27m of Covid-related costs, which was in line with expectations and largely related to staff absence.
Looking ahead to the full year, the group plans to open two new stores, in Kirkby and Chelmsford, plus temporary replacement stores in Camden and Little Clacton. As previously guided, net debt's expected to be no higher than 2.4 times cash profits.
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