Outlining his plans at an investor and analyst seminar on Tuesday,
Chief Executive Philip Clarke said the measures accelerate a
turnaround plan aimed at countering increased competition in the
British retail market, but which has so far failed to boost its
"This doesn't signal a need for a new strategy, simply to go
faster," Clarke said.
He effectively abandoned Tesco's target for a UK operating margin of
5.2 percent, the highest in the industry, by saying "the margin will
be what the margin will be."
At a later media briefing Chief Financial Officer Laurie McIlwee
said the firm would not be giving a new target because of
uncertainties in the grocery market due to more competition and
"If I was to give you a margin it would be a false sense of
precision. We need the space to operate, we don't want to be backed
into a corner," he said.
While not signaling a return to the "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap"
mantra of Tesco founder Joseph Cohen, sacrificing the target signals
that Tesco will make less profit from its revenue as it chases
higher sales volumes with lower prices.
In common with Britain's three other leading grocers — Wal-Mart's
Asda <WMT.N>, Sainsbury's <SBRY.L> and Morrisons <MRW.L> — Tesco is
being squeezed between the hard discounters Aldi <ALDIEI.UL> and
Lidl <LIDUK.UL> and upmarket grocers Waitrose <JLPC.UL> and Marks &
Spencer <MKS.L>, losing market share.
A commitment to reduce promotions and invest an additional 200
million pounds ($334 million) cutting prices on basic products like
carrots and cucumbers will be seen as a direct response to the rise
of the discounters as well as moves by its biggest rivals. Asda, for
example, has pledged to spend more than 1 billion pounds on price
cuts over the next five years.
BOLDER AND BRAVER
Tesco is 22 months into the turnaround program for its 3,150 British
stores, having already spent more than 1 billion pounds on refits,
more staff and new product ranges, yet underlying sales at stores
open over a year fell 2.4 percent in the Christmas period and,
according to monthly industry data, have continued to fall.
Shares in Tesco, down 10 percent over the past year, were little
changed by the close, finishing up 0.5 percent at 335.7 pence,
valuing the business at about 26.9 billion pounds.
"If there is no data showing (the) current plan works, why
accelerate the plan," asked Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne.
"They need to be bolder and braver," he said.
The overall approach to growth and returns set out last year remains
the same, Clarke said, targeting mid-single-digit annual growth in
trading profit, return on capital employed (ROCE) within a range of
12-15 percent and dividend growth broadly in line with underlying
earnings, with a target cover of more than two times.
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Tesco, which makes about two thirds of its revenue in Britain, has
suffered more than many rivals because it has more large stores and
traditionally sold a higher proportion of large-ticket non-food
items, such as domestic appliances, where shoppers cut back most in
an economic downturn.
To address that, Clarke has refocused the company's non-food offer
on higher-margin categories, such as clothing and homewares, though
only about a third of its huge Extra stores have been refurbished so
far. Tesco said the Extra format will be a priority for 2014, with
110 slated for refits.
Clarke also plans to open 150 convenience stores a year, while other
initiatives include a planned doubling of click-and-collect
locations and the expansion of a scheme allowing loyalty card
holders to save money on fuel.
The group, which trails France's Carrefour <CARR.PA> and U.S. giant
Wal-Mart <WMT.N> in annual sales, also said it would reduce net new
space significantly, resulting in lower overall capital expenditure.
Having given guidance for net new UK space of about 1.4 million
square feet for 2013/14, it plans a further reduction to 0.7 million
sq ft in 2014/15.
Group capital expenditure will drop to no more than 2.5 billion
pounds a year, its lowest level for 10 years, for at least the next
three financial years. Tesco had previously indicated a figure of
3.2 billion pounds for 2013/14.
Other big European retailers like Carrefour and Metro <MEOG.DE>,
facing many of the same challenges as Tesco, have also slashed capex
in recent years but have both started to increase investment again,
although they are still spending less than Tesco as a percentage of
Clarke reiterated that the pursuit of disciplined international
growth remained a priority. On Monday Tesco said it was in talks
about a possible restructuring of its business in Turkey.
"Overall this is the 'middle way' message we expected ... nothing
that should cause panic across the industry," Deutsche Bank analyst
James Collins said. ($1 = 0.5994 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson;
editing by David Goodman and William Hardy)
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