Increased costs bite US retailers despite higher holiday sales

Several US retailers reported small or moderate increases in comparable store sales during the critical November-December period. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019

Increased costs bite US retailers despite higher holiday sales

  • Mastercard SpendingPulse in December estimated holiday sales growth of around 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion, the strongest jump in the last six years
  • The 2018 holiday shopping season was a strong one — just not for retailers

NEW YORK: Holiday shopping reports released Thursday underscored anew the challenges US retailers face in the Amazon era — even if consumers are willing to open their wallets to spend.
The updates were a mixed bag overall, with several retailers reporting small or moderate increases in comparable store sales during the critical November-December period.
But a report from Macy’s aroused the most angst on Wall Street, after the chain slashed its profit forecast even as it signaled a modest increase in sales.
Shares in Macy’s plunged almost 20 percent, while nearly every major retailer was pulled down as well.
That included companies like Target that reported higher holiday sales and confirmed — but did not raise — profit forecasts.
The results were an ugly finale to a holiday shopping season that opened with high expectations owing to robust consumer confidence amid a strong employment market, relatively low gasoline prices and a boost from tax cuts.
Mastercard SpendingPulse in December estimated holiday sales growth of around 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion, the strongest jump in the last six years.
By that estimate, the 2018 holiday shopping season was a strong one — just not for retailers.
“It was a good season. Consumers had more money to spend. They spent it,” said retail industry consultant Dana Telsey.
“But the cost of doing business is getting higher.”
Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have invested in heavily beefing up their online platforms and offering incentives to lure buyers, such as free shipping during the peak holiday season.
At the same time, these companies also have spent heavily to improve the in-store experience, hiring consultants to help beautify the surroundings and in many cases employing more workers during the peak festive season.
The latest results suggested retailers still have not found a winning recipe for the transition to the e-commerce era.
“We know expenses are always a problem as more and more stuff moves online because people simply will not pay for you shipping it to them,” said retail industry consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen.
“They want it to be the same price in the store in my door. That’s just the way it is.”
Experts say the retail industry is still undergoing an existential shakeout.
Companies like Macy’s, JC Penney and Gap have shuttered stores in recent years, while Toys “R” Us went out of business — a fate that could soon befall iconic American retailer Sears.
Macy’s shares tumbled 18.7 percent after it reported an increase of 1.1 percent in comparable sales, but lowered its annual earnings forecast to a range of $3.95 to $4.00 a share from $4.10 to $4.30.
Sales were dented by a fire in a distribution center in West Virginia and a pre-Christmas “earn and redeem” promotional event that was unsuccessful, Macy’s said.
“The holiday season began strong,” Macy’s Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said, “but weakened in the mid-December period and did not return to expected patterns until the week of Christmas.”
Target said comparable sales grew 5.7 percent over the holiday, while Kohl’s put sales growth at 1.2 percent. L Brands, the parent of Victoria’s Secret, reported flat comparable sales for the five weeks ending January 5.
Bookseller Barnes & Noble estimated sales growth at 1.3 percent over the two-month period, adding that its earnings guidance “may be reduced by as much as 10 percent” due to increased advertising and promotional costs.
Analysts said the declines were exacerbated by expectations that earnings growth will be tough in 2019 after a strong 2018 following the US tax cut enacted in late 2017.


‘Disappointed’ billionaire brothers urge new talks on Saudi bid for Newcastle FC

Updated 5 min 51 sec ago

‘Disappointed’ billionaire brothers urge new talks on Saudi bid for Newcastle FC

  • The Reuben brothers want to buy 10 per cent of the club as part of PIF takeover
  • Brothers remain 'totally supportive' of the deal should there be a way forward

DUBAI: Another big financial backer of the £300 million ($390 million) bid for Newcastle United football club has come out in favor of a takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The Reuben brothers, multibillionaire businessmen who want to buy 10 per cent of the club, said on Monday they were “very disappointed” when the bid was withdrawn late last week after months of stalling by the Premier League in England.

“We would welcome any resurrection of talks and progress with the Premier League and are aware that the Reuben brothers remain totally supportive of the deal should there be a way forward,” said a statement from their company, Arena Racing.

The brothers’ renewed support for the deal will raise the pressure on Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, who has remained silent since the takeover offer was withdrawn last week.

PIF made no secret of its disappointment and frustration that the Premier League — which has the duty to approve or reject a takeover of a member club  — has reached no decision since contracts were exchanged on the deal in April that would give the Saudi sovereign wealth fund 80 per cent of the 128-year-old club

Amanda Staveley, the British financier who has been at the heart of the deal and would have bought the remaining 10 per cent, also wants to see the deal revived.

The Reuben brothers, who already run two horseracing courses in the northeast of England, said: “We were planning on creating one of the premier sporting hubs in the UK, undertaking development work that is vital for the region and enjoying valuable synergies with the football club.

“We continue to hope that those exciting plans are not in vain.”