Associated British Foods was among the top FTSE 100 risers when the markets opened, while Home Retail dived to the bottom of the FTSE 250 fallers board.
Primark bounces higher
ABF reported that revenue for the 16 weeks ended 3 January was 3% ahead of the same period last year at constant currency (1% at actual exchange rates). There was mixed news from the conglomerates sugar, grocery and ingredients businesses, but all eyes were on the groups jewel in the crown, Primark.
Early last month, ABF had told shareholders at the companys AGM that Primarks autumn sales were around 10% ahead of the previous year, with like-for-like sales currently below expectations as a result of the unseasonably warm weather.
However, ABF this morning reported that Primarks sales had bounced back in the five weeks including Christmas to such an extent that the business saw 15% growth at constant exchange rates (12% at actual rates) in the 16-week period to 3 January.
Looking ahead, ABF expects its sugar business to continue to be a drag on the groups top and bottom lines for the next nine months, but this will put much of the effect of the structural changes in EU prices, seen over the last three years, behind us.
As a result of current weak sugar prices, and the strength of sterling, ABF expects a marginal decline in earnings for companys financial year to September 2015.
Home Retail reported sales growth of just 0.8% (0.1% on a like-for-like basis) for Argos in the 18 weeks to 3 January. Sales at the groups smaller Homebase business declined 2.7%, but with store closures reducing net space by 3.3%, like-for-like sales were up 0.6%.
Home Retail said Argos was impacted by a competitive retail environment of aggressive promotions, and that the draw of discounts affected trade both before and after Black Friday as consumers satisfied their Christmas shopping lists with bargains.
The company pursued a cautious trading stance, and by not chasing sales volumes achieved improved margins and good cost management. As such, management expects profit for the companys financial year ending 28 February to be in line with consensus expectations.
Which company is the better buy?
On the face of it, Home Retail is a clear winner as the better buy based on the popular valuation measure of price-to-earnings (P/E). At a share price of 200p, Home Retail trades on 17 times forecast earnings, while ABF, at 3,100p, trades on 30 times forecast earnings.
However, theres one line of argument and I find it quite compelling that says ABF is undervalued, even though the P/E is so high. A research report last year from Morgan Stanley argued that Primark could be worth 30bn as a standalone business. Right now, ABF, as a whole, is valued by the market at just 25bn.
Behind the Morgan Stanley analysts valuation is a comparison of Primark with H&M:
Primarks global network is less than a tenth of H&Ms but already generates sales equivalent to H&M a decade ago Ten years from now we believe Primark should be at least as valuable as H&M is today history shows that growth stories in the retail space have systematically been undervalued.
According to Morgan Stanley, historical research shows the best returns for investors in retail have come from buying shares in companies with more than 20 years of double-digit space growth ahead of them, irrespective of valuation.
It’s a radical idea, but should you take on board such research or simply follow the prevailing conventional wisdom? If you’ve got a full-time job or an otherwise busy life you probably don’t have a great deal of time for investigating shares in depth.
However, in this BRAND NEW FREE report, the Motley Fool’s team of top analysts explain how seven strategic steps and just 20 minutes a month could help you on the path to becoming one of Britain’s growing number of “surprise” stock market millionaires.
Get FREE Issues of The Motley Fool Collective
Get straightforward advice on whats really happening with the stock markets, direct to your inbox. Help yourself with our FREE email newsletter designed to help you protect and grow your portfolio wealth.