Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC (LON:MRW) said trading was “highly volatile” in the first quarter and it expects full-year costs relating to coronavirus are likely to be offset by the government's business rates holiday.
Like-for-like sales excluding fuel were up 5.7% in the grocers first quarter, which runs for 14 weeks from 3 February to 10 May.
Retail LFL sales were up 5.1% and wholesale revenue increased 0.6%.
LFL sales including fuel were down 3.9% compared to the first quarter last year, after the collapse in oil prices.
The volatility in trading has seen spikes from household stock-piling but also a significantly lower Easter in lockdown, when retail LFL sales were negative for the eighth through the 11th weeks of the financial year.
Recent trading has seen a return to normal trading hours and improved product availability, enabling 9.6% growth in retail LFL sales for weeks 12-14.
Negative fuel sales growth, however, is having an impact on working capital and net debt, “which we expect to reverse quickly when fuel sales normalise”.
Morrisons said that the volatile trading environment is proving costly, while its various positive initiatives in the coronavirus crisis such as a 6% staff bonus, community donations, colleague- and customer-protection initiatives all coming to a “considerable cost”, not to mention temporary staff absence rates that have sometimes spiked up to 20,000 workers.
Online grocery developments have been an important positive for the FTSE 100 group, with home delivery slots doubled thanks to increased use of store-picked groceries on the Ocado platform, a new click-and-collect service launched and a new partnership with Deliveroo proving popular with customers and extended to more deliveries and items, including a selection of beer and wine.
In the coming weeks, Morrisons said it is expanding its Amazon Prime store from 17 to 40 locations, covering most British cities and 90% of London postcodes.
On the outlook, chief executive David Potts said the board was continuing to monitor various 2020/21 sales, profit and cash flow scenarios, “but have minimal certainty or visibility around a precise outcome”.
He said the current best estimate is that costs from the pandemic will be “broadly offset by the in-year business rates cost saving, but the actual net effect is highly dependent on the length of the crisis and how customers respond as lockdown eases”.
Morrisons shares rose almost 3% in the first hour of trading on Tuesday to 193.95p, though are still down 4% since the start of the year.
Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said that Morrisons was the first big supermarket to highlight how poor Easter was, that the Q1 sales growth was “slightly better than expected” and also noted the strong uplift in trading in the past three weeks.
Sophie Lund-Yates, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Morrison's had echoed the sentiments of other supermarkets that shopping habits are starting to look a little more normal.
“It also confirmed the inconvenient truth that extra sales come with extra costs, and as such a full year profit boom isnt in the bag. Volatile trading patterRead More – Source