Sainsburys shares responded with a small gain, up 4p (1.7%) to 253p in early trading, so were the numbers good just three months after the UKs third-largest supermarket chain posted its first full-year loss in a decade? No, not really. In fact, like-for-like sales fell for the sixth successive quarter, by 2.1% excluding fuel (and by 3.7% including fuel).
Competition is hurting
Chief executive Mike Coupe put the problems down to strong levels of food deflation and a highly competitive pricing backdrop, which is something we already knew really Sainsburys is not managing to match the competition from Lidl and Aldi.
Sainsburys strategy is still to reinforce our quality credentials in the words of Mr Coupe, and appealing to a slightly more up-market clientele has always been the aim. But that approach is suffering, as the lower-priced retailers are muscling in on that segment, too Lidls latest ads are clearly aimed at the Sainsburys crowd.
Sales and profits are surely going to fall further until the adjustment to todays more competitive environment is complete, and Sainsburys is going to have to get used to permanently lower profit margins. That transformation is not going to be complete this year, at least not according to forecasts, and its not likely to be next year either we have a further 20% fall in EPS predicted by March 2016, with a 2% drop pencilled in for the year after.
Tesco better now?
But whats Tescos first quarter this year going to be like? With the stocks recent mini-recovery going off the boil, it doesnt look like the markets are expecting anything great just yet the falling price trend recovered by 50% from the middle of December to its April peak of 251p, but since then its turned down nearly 20% to today 202p.
It was really quite hard to tell how the recovery plan is coming along from 2014s full-year results. Although Tesco reported its first rise in UK like-for-like sales volumes in four years, profit margins are still being pared and overseas operations are struggling. And like Sainsburys, its still finding it hard to compete.
Theres talk of Tescos Korean subsidiary, which is facing very tough trading conditions, being sold off so we might hear something of that come the 26th.
Sainsbury is cheaper
Even if we get positive news, Tesco shares are still on a forward P/E of more than 22 based on February 2016 full-year forecasts, dropping only as far as 17 on 2017 guesswork. And that to me is too optimistic a rating for a company that has lost its way in its market and still doesnt appear to have found the answer.
Sainsburys is looking better value than Tesco to me on a forward P/E of a bit under 12, but I wouldnt buy in based on todays Q1 figures were still looking at a sick sector.
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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of Tesco. We Fools don’t all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.