The gain was the smallest for Tesco since 2001. However it out-performed the estimates of most financial analysts who follow the global retailer. Citibank, which we quoted here yesterday, pegged the 11% number ahead of today's reporting. Tesco PLC stock added 4.8% in trading today on the London Stock Exchange on its report of the 11% gain in half-year net income.
Sales excluding value-added tax increased 13 percent to 25.6 billion pounds, Tesco said. However, non-food same-store sales growth in the U.K., Tesco's number one trading region, slowed to 4 percent from 8 percent in the second half of last year.
You can view Tesco PLC's complete half-year financial report here.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA
Tesco reported sales and profit/loss numbers for its small-format Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market combination grocery and fresh foods retailing chain today for the first time since launching the venture in the Western U.S. states of California, Nevada and Arizona.
Tesco reported sales of 76 million pounds ($150 million) for Fresh & Easy, which currently operates 90 stores in the Western U.S.
Tesco reported a loss for Fresh & Easy of 60 million pounds ($118 million), based on a 9 month trading period. The first Fresh & Easy store opened in late October, 2007 in Hemet, California. Therefore, using November 1, 2007 as a fair start date, Fresh & Easy stores have been trading for an actual 11 months total. Tesco however used a 9 month period based on its half-year fiscal analysis.
Here's how Tesco reported Fresh & Easy's sales and income loss in the report today:
"A segmental report on the United States is included in International for the first time with these results. US sales and initial trading losses were previously reported within the UK segment. Fresh & Easy had no stores trading during the first half of last year so comparatives are available only in respect of start-up losses in 2007/8. US sales were £76m in the first half and trading losses were £60m, (last year trading losses were £17m). These planned losses reflect the fact that the US business – which has been trading for nine months – has been built with the necessary infrastructure in place from the beginning to support hundreds of stores. At this stage, it is therefore operating with high overhead and other costs in relation to the scale of the business, whilst also trading from immature stores."
Andrew Higginson, Tesco PLC's chief financial officer, said today in a statement he expects Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA to break even by the next fiscal year.
Tesco also released some additional sales data today for Fresh & Easy.
Tesco said the average Fresh & Easy store is trading at $11 per square foot per week. According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) , the major U.S. food and grocery retailing trade association, U.S. supermarket industry average sales per square foot are $11.27 (2007 figure).
Tesco also said its best performing Fresh & Easy stores are trading at more than $25 per square foot per week. However, there's no mention if "best performing stores" means 2 stores, 5 stores, 10 or 25 "best stores." Therefore it's not a very meaningful number in terms of comparing it to the $11 per square foot sales average. Obviously it can't be more than a handful of stores. If so, the $11 average number would therefore be higher.
Additionally, Tesco said Fresh & Easy stores that have opened since spring, 2008 "also appear" to be performing above the average, at $13 per square foot per week.
Fresh & Easy Buzz has previously reported, based on information from sources, that a few of the Fresh & Easy Stores, such as the Manhattan Beach, California unit which opened on July 2 and a couple others opened after that this summer, are averaging about 200,000 in weekly sales. However, that's far from the $25 per square foot per store sales Tesco reported "some" of its best stores are doing. Perhaps we've missed those stores?
However, the $13 per square foot per store number fits with those handful of stores, like Manhattan Beach, our sources tell us are doing in the $200,000 per week average range. However, our information is that those stores are units opened this summer after July rather than in the spring as Tesco reports. Perhaps we've missed a couple of those stores as well?
Mike Dennis, an analyst at the Piper Jaffray-UK investment firm who follows Tesco PLC and has been closely following Fresh & Easy since Tesco set up shop in Southern California about three year's ago, said about the reported $118 million loss for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market: "The interesting point on US losses was the $118 million loss could be $25m start-up and $93m trading losses which if right would imply negative margins of 62% obviously due to discounting and lack of op leverage on high depot fixed costs." By depot he is referring to the 800,000-plus square foot Fresh & Easy distribution center in Riverside County, (Southern) California.
"I assume to get to $200m FY (fiscal year) loss (breaking even by the fiscal year as Tesco CFO Andrew Higginson suggest will occur) they (Tesco) will need to do a sale and leaseback on (the) Riverside (County) depot," Dennis added.
Tesco analyst Dennis also says the idea the $11 sales per square foot per store Tesco reported for Fresh & Easy "is good is laughable" because rather than benchmark the sales strictly based on supermarket (like Vons and Albertsons, two chains in Southern California) format average sales per square foot ($11.27 according to FMI), it should be measured closer to convenience store (because the Fresh & Easy stores are a hybrid grocery and convenience-oriented format) sales per square foot, which are higher than supermarket averages.
Fresh & Easy Buzz's most recent sales per square foot estimate for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market essentially matches the $11 per square foot per store number reported today by Tesco PLC.
Our most current average per store sales estimate range for Fresh & Easy is 125,000 -to- 150,000, with our average per store sales estimate single figure at $130,000
Fresh & Easy stores range in size from 10,000 -to- 13,500 square feet. If you pick the mid-range square footage number between that store average range and multiple it by $11 (sales) per square foot, you will see we are right in the ballgame with our numbers. For example, using 11,500 square feet as the mid-range, and $11 sales per square foot, the total is $126,500 in average weekly sales. Our estimate is $130,000, within a range of $125,000 -to- $150,000.
Not only is Fresh & Easy Buzz the only publication (that we can find) that's gone out on the limb to offer such an estimate in recent times, we're obviously pleased with its accuracy.
In fact, you can read this piece from yesterday, "Tesco PLC to Report Interim Financials Tomorrow; Including Guidance on Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA,," in which we published our sales estimates. We also published our estimates in this September 26 piece, "Tesco PLC, Fresh & Easy and the Numbers Game; Will Tesco Release Hard Numbers For Fresh & Easy Next Week? If So, Will They Be Meaningful?." We've published the estimates in a number of other stories prior to September 26 as well.
Tesco's original average per store weekly sales target for its Fresh & Easy stores for this point in time was about $200,000, rather than the current numbers.
While current average sales are a considerable shortfall from that target, they are much better that what the stores were averaging in the first quarter of this year. At that time our estimate was sales of about $70,000 -to- $100,000. At current averages of say between $120,000 to- $130,000 it's a considerable improvement.
However, it's our analysis a significant portion of that sales lift has come from Tesco Fresh & Easy's aggressive use of its deep discount $5-off coupons, which can be redeemed for full face value by shoppers on purchases of $20 or more in the stores. That deep discount amounts to a whopping 25%-off on a $20 grocery purchase.
These coupons are mass-mailed to residences and handled out in the stores in multiples to customers. They also are used frequently by shoppers. Tesco has been using them since the stores first opened last year.
It's our analysis the aggressive use of the deep-discount coupons has provided an "artificial" sales lift to the Fresh & Easy numbers, well beyond the type of lift average supermarket chains get from coupon use and redemption.
We aren't going to quantify the percentage of the sales lift attributable to the aggressive use of the deep discount coupons since we don't have sufficient information at present to do so in our estimation.
However, the coupon use is significant -- and it's our analysis if the 25% deep discount value coupons were either reduced by say 50% (which would still be a deep discount compared to what competitors offer) or eliminated completely (very few U.S. retailers use such coupons on any regular basis, let alone for nearly a year like Fresh & Easy has been doing) there would be a significant shortfall in the grocery chain's current $11 per store per square foot average sales number.
But in the longer view, Tesco's Fresh & Easy certainly is doing far better than many other analysts have suggested. Since our most recent sales estimates are in line with today's reported numbers for Fresh & Easy, we've been far less likely to sound the third alarm bell -- maybe 1.5 at this point in time -- like a number of other analysts have been continually doing.
However, that doesn't mean it's our analysis Fresh & Easy is on solid footing. Far from it. For example, we disagree with Tesco's chief financial officer that the company will likely break even in the next fiscal year. Maybe. But we doubt it.
We disagree for a number of reasons, but chiefly because starting next year Tesco will enter the Northern California market, opening a distribution center and the first of what so far are about 45 -to- 50 stores, some confirmed by the retailer and others we've identified in our reporting. (This doesn't include the Bakersfield and Fresno region stores set to begin opening next year in the Central Valley.)
Northern California is a very different market in many qualitative ways than Southern California, Southern Nevada and the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region, where the current Fresh & Easy stores are operating.
In our analysis, Tesco will find itself burning up far more investment money (on a per-capita basis at retail) in entering and operating in the Northern California market (San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento/Vacaville Metropolitan region) than it has so far in its retail operations and marketing/merchandising (we aren't talking about start-up costs for distribution, ect.) in its current three market regions.
We will save our extensive analysis of the reasons why this will likely be the case for another time -- and for another piece devoted exclusively to that topic.
For now, suffice to say the competition for Fresh & Easy will be stronger and more varied in Northern California, the consumer base is qualitatively different, and the external issues are much more difficult for a retailer to deal with than is the case in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona.
As a result, we doubt Tesco will see break even as soon as the fiscal year.
On the other hand, we suggest those who continue to count Tesco out with Fresh & Easy do so at their own peril, so to speak.
If Tesco's Fresh & Easy can execute its operations better, improve its merchandising and marketing significantly, and stop having such high employee turnover in key areas like corporate merchandising and buying (along with doing a few other things differently and better), there are a number of current trends in Western U.S. food and grocery retailing (and externally) that suggest a smart, savvy, well positioned small-format grocery chain could do extremely well.
For Tesco's Fresh & Easy, time -- and those improvements and changes -- will tell.