Why Wal-Mart Is Worried About Amazon?

Five years ago, the world’s largest retail chain didn’t have to worry much about the world’s largest online mall. Only about a quarter of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) customers shopped at Amazon.com (AMZN), according to data from researcher Kantar Retail. Today, however, half of Wal-Mart customers say they’ve shopped at both merchants. That’s leaving the mega-retailer—which long ago bested local brick-and-mortar merchandise stores and supermarkets across America—with a massive online competitor that is too tough to ignore.

Threatening Wal-Mart’s dominance are two trends: The discounter’s traditional customers—bargain hunters making less than $50,000 a year—are getting more tech-savvy, and more-affluent shoppers who began frequenting Wal-Mart during the recession are returning to Amazon as their finances improve. Amazon has moved into merchandise categories that Wal-Mart traditionally has sold, from diapers to vacuum cleaner bags. In its last fiscal year, Amazon posted 41 percent revenue growth, to $48.1 billion, vs. 8 percent at Wal-Mart. The chain’s 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2 percent of its $264 billion in U.S. revenue, says Kantar. “Amazon is always in our sights,” says Jeremy King, chief technology officer at the retailer’s @ WalmartLabs skunkworks in Silicon Valley. “My biggest issue is playing a catch-up game.”

In the last year Wal-Mart has increased its investment in its online business. The company has spent more than $300 million acquiring five tech firms since May and hired more than 300 engineers and code writers in the U.S. and India. Wal-Mart is also launching a program to allow the 20 percent of its customers without credit cards or bank accounts to make online purchases.

Wal-Mart’s acquisitions include Kosmix, a social-media firm, and iPhone app creator Small Society. The company hopes the newcomers can find a way to stop shoppers from engaging in scan and scram. That’s when would-be customers use their smartphones in stores to scan an item’s bar code and then buy it online from a rival merchant. The chain’s tech team also is working on a concept called Endless Aisle, which would let shoppers immediately order from Walmart.com via smartphone if an item is out of stock. “You can’t ask people to leave their phones at the door. So you have to give them value and an experience,” says Venky Harinarayan, @WalmartLabs’ senior vice president of global e- commerce. The former Amazon executive joined from Kosmix.

Wal-Mart is trying to improve links between its store inventory, website, and mobile phone apps so that more customers can order online and pick up their purchases at stores, which half of Web customers do already. Wal-Mart is trying Web-based shopping tactics, like its Pay With Cash program for Wal-Mart customers who don’t have credit cards. The new program allows them to reserve products online and pay cash at their nearest store. To cater to its affluent customers, Wal-Mart is selling more expensive items—for example, high-end televisions from Sony (SNE) and Samsung—only online.

Harinarayan’s team is also trying to tackle a new problem for Wal-Mart. Last year the chain was the No. 1 destination for holiday shoppers, with 53 percent of U.S. customers visiting its stores. That was down from 59 percent the year before. To lure gift shoppers, the techies have developed a Shopycat feature that scans the social media preferences of a consumer’s Facebook friends and suggests gift ideas sold on Walmart.com. About 150,000 users have installed the app.

To roll out more such innovations, Wal-Mart must improve its in-house e-commerce technology, so King will hire 87 engineers and coders to bolster the links between the stores and the website. “We’re starting from scratch to build a foundation,” says the EBay (EBAY) veteran. “Ideally, we’d have this platform built a couple of years ago.”

 

The bottom line: Wal-Mart, which gets less than 2 percent of its U.S. sales online, aims to bolster its technical capabilities to compete with Amazon.

 

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WalMart leads latest m-payments initiative

Store giant joins with two dozen US retailers to take leadership of NFC wave away from Google and Isis

Mobile payments’ progress has been held back by the sheer number of vested interests battling to take the upper hand in driving the platform. This is seen best in the US, where the main parties each have one or more initiatives – three of the top four cellcos in Isis; Google Wallet; schemes led by the credit card giants such as Visa; and separate programs by PayPal and others. Now the retailers, too, want a say, and about 25 stores, including Walmart and Target, have formed a consortium to develop their own m-payment system.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources with direct knowledge of the deal, the retailers are eager to limit the influence of either Google or the operators in this area. They would have various advantages in bringing store-based mobile payments, such as NFC-enabled systems, to market. They have an existing trusted brand for consumers, and would get round one of the major blocks in NFC’s path – merchant indifference or unwillingness to deploy terminals.

There are few details as yet, but Target said in a statement to the WSJ: “We are exploring potential solutions that would help us to deliver the fastest, most secure mobile-payment experience possible for our customers.”

However, Google claims 22 large US retail chains now support its Wallet initiative, even though that suffered recently from security issues, and is available only on the Sprint network and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset. Google is working with MasterCard and its PayPass network, while Isis is working with most of the major card processors, including Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and will start trials of its services this year.

IBM Buys Retail Forecasting And Merchandising Software Company

IBM has made a major purchase today in the commerce and retail world—DemandTec, a retail marketing and merchandising software company. IBM is acquiring DemandTec (which listed on the Nasdaq) in an all cash transaction at a price of $13.20 per share, or approximately $440 million.

DemandTec provides retailers and e-commerce companies with tools to transact, interact, and collaborate on core merchandising and marketing activities. DemandTec’s cloud-based analytics software allows businesses to examine different customer buying scenarios, both online and in-store, so retailers can spot trends and shopper insights to make better price, promotion, and assortment decisions that increase revenue and profitability.

For example, retailers can predict how consumers will respond to a price change before making the change. Or a merchant and supplier can work together to understand how one shopper segment differs from another to create a targeted merchandise plan.

DemandTec’s use of cloud-based price, promotion and other merchandising and marketing analytics helps companies better define the best price points and product mix based on customer buying trends. Essentially, DemandTec uses data analysis and forecasting to make the retail world smarter.

DemandTec customers include Best Buy, ConAgra Foods, Delhaize America, General Mills, H-E-B Grocery Co., The Home Depot, Hormel Foods, Monoprix, PETCO, Safeway, Sara Lee, Target, Walmart, and WH Smith. DemandTec also has a portfolio of 31 patents in the areas of pricing, response analysis, and promotion analysis.

For IBM, the acquisition is all about its smarter commerce initiative. IBM estimates the market opportunity for Smarter Commerce at $20 billion in software alone.

IBM’s recent acquisitions include Algorithmics, and Tririga.

The small-store owner is too important, nimble and innovative to be bumped off by big-box retailers in India.

Kirana RIP? Not Yet.

The arguments for and against FDI in retail are, at a generic level, valid on both sides. However, since the devil is usually in the detail, the facts about India’s small retailers and suppliers, the conditions stipulated for FDI, and recent experience with the effects of domestic modern retail need to be viewed together before the likely outcome pronounced. The big fight is about whether this new policy will kill small shops, massively destroy livelihoods and take away GenNext’s opportunities. Facts suggest otherwise. Consider the kirana, the one most feared to be at risk. About 5-6 million of the 8 million FMCG-stocking kiranas are in rural India, and are totally safe, as the new ones can only come into the top 53 cities.

R Sriram, founder of Crossword and retail expert, tables two insights. One, in many big cities, kiranas are already not participating in the growth offered by the newer settlements like Gurgaon or Powai, because without their advantage of historically-priced real estate, they are not viable. Two, increasingly, small shopkeepers’ children are getting better educated and want to exit ‘sitting in the shop’ as soon as possible, just as small farmers’ children are exiting farming. Sadly, the country’s retail density has been increasing in recent years, not driven by passion or profit, but because of lack of options — hopefully that will change. It is true that traditional income streams of small shops in the vicinity of a large supermarket plummet; but we have seen that they soon recast their business model, exploiting the inherent advantages they have that the supermarket cannot emulate: free, prompt and no-conditions home delivery, superior and customised customer relationship management, khaata- credit and willingness to stock small quantities of something used by only a few people in their catchment — a classic ‘long-tail’ strategy. Notice two more things: even in upper-class areas in large cities, despite large retail chains in the vicinity, the small vegetable vendor and kirana continue to find a place in the household’s shopping basket. The kirana also continuously morphs, and is already moving to a more specialised and selective portfolio. We will find them variously choosing to become more of a convenience store (7-Eleven-type), or fresh-food store, a home-delivery store, maybe even express-format franchisees of large retail, and so on.

Another reality check: how much consumption capacity do even the top 50 cities have? Seriously, how many more Ikea, Zara, Walmart, Tesco and Best Buy can a Surat, Kanpur or Indore absorb, in addition to more Big Bazaar, Megamart and Croma? Further, foreign specialty retailers targeting the rich consumer will create never-before custom, and not at the expense of existing shops. Two decades ago, we had the same hue and cry that Indian brands would be wiped out; but they got better and bigger than they would have had they been left unchallenged. Now for the suppliers. Large suppliers will lose the pricing power they had with small retailers and nobody on any side of the FDI debate is grieving for them. Small suppliers, even without FDI, are being mercilessly squeezed by middlemen. The hope is that large retail chains, unlike the broker middleman, have more incentive to pay more because they have customer loyalty and a brand to build; in exchange for steady, loyal, consistent quality supply, they will pay more, guarantee offtake, improve product and production efficiency. The FDI norm of at least 30% sourcing from small scale pushes this further. Walmart potentially could kill the small suppliers of anything by importing 70% from China cheaper; but loads of small traders are already doing the same, flooding our markets with Ganesh murtis, chappals, clothes, watches, etc.

The Achilles’ heel for a lot of skilled artisans, specialised producers, grass roots innovators, etc, is market orientation and marketing. Producer collectives have managed to organise themselves on the supply side using government assistance schemes, but they struggle to manage the demand side. That is the missing link that large retailers in vendor development mode can provide, just as the auto industry has done to ancillary suppliers. Both sides agree that customers will gain because large chain retailers can provide better for cheaper, given the discounts they get through buying large quantities and sourcing smartly. Customers will also get a wider range, more innovative products and more comfortable, truthful and informed shopping environment. Poor customers won’t get discriminated against, because the hypermarket is anonymous, transactional, classless and nonjudgemental. They may not get better service because the small Indian retailer is the champion of good service, from atta to electrical, the likes of which we haven’t yet seen any big retailer match, anywhere in the world. That’s another reason why he will always survive.

Before we fight further, consider this. This network of commercially-savvy supplychain linked small retailers is an invaluable asset: as one report said, they are not ‘unorganised’ by any stretch of imagination; we agree and have refrained from using this phrase in this article! It is unlikely that Indian jugaad will let this network disintegrate. Perhaps in rural India, where they would have been more hard hit had the big-box retailers been allowed, they would have been garnered by banks as new extension counters for financial inclusion.

economictimes.com: RAMA BIJAPURKAR INDEPENDENT MARKET STRATEGY CONSULTANT

Black Friday Sales Hits Record, Retail traffic and Foot-falls up.

Preliminary reports for Black Friday indicate that retailers may have seen their strongest sales ever during the all-important kick-off to the holiday shopping season.

black friday sales

Retail sales on Black Friday climbed 6.6% this year to an estimated $11.4 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks foot traffic at malls and stores. Last year, sales climbed just 0.3% to $10.7 billion, which was a record one-day sales amount at the time, according to the company.

“This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3 percent increase we saw between 2007 and 2006,” said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. “Still, it’s just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behavior through the holiday shopping season.”

However, sales have been strong throughout the entire month of November with retailers rolling out holiday deals earlier than ever. In the two weeks leading up to the week of Black Friday, retail sales were up 3.6% and 3.8%, respectively, ShopperTrak reported.

“Retailers continue to stretch out Black Friday weekend by enticing shoppers with doorbuster deals weeks in advance,” said Martin.

Online sales have also proven to be strong, with many big-box retailers and department stores offering deals online earlier this year.

Black Friday online sales surge 24%

Online sales were up 39.3% on Thanksgiving Day and 24.3% on Black Friday compared to the same days last year, according to IBM’s (IBM,Fortune 500) Coremetrics, which tracks real-time data from 500 retailers in the apparel, department store, health and beauty and home goods categories.

“This year marked Thanksgiving’s emergence as the first big spending day of the 2011 holiday season with a record number of consumers shifting their focus from turkey to tablets and the search for the best deals,” said John Squire, chief strategy officer at IBM’s Smarter Commerce division.

Consumers also spent slightly more than they did last year, although they spent most of that money on themselves. According to NPD Group consumers spent about 3% more on purchases during Black Friday. However, about 44% were self purchases up from 33% last year, the research group said.

Retail traffic on Black Friday up 2%

Total US visits to the top 500 Retail websites increased 2% on Black Friday as compared to 2010 and received more than 173 million US visits. Traffic has increased each day leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday and the total visits dipped slightly (-1%) on Black Friday compared Thanksgiving Day 2011. Early Black Friday sales resulted in a shift of online traffic, which climbed prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, however, continued heavy promotional activity helped to drive significant online traffic on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. While Black Friday has been the top day for online retail traffic over the past two years, warm weather and early store openings encouraged shoppers to go online sooner this season.
DMS Retail 500 11-25-2011.png

Among the categories driving the growth in traffic on Black Friday were Department Stores (e.g. Amazon and Wal-Mart) Apparel & Accessories, Appliances & Electronics (e.g. Best Buy) and Video & Games (e.g. Game Stop).
DMS Retail Categories 11-25-2011.png

Below is a list of the top visited retail sites on Black Friday:
DMS Retail 500 Sites 11-25-2011.png

Many of the major retail websites experienced growth on Black Friday, including Amazon, Best Buy, JC Penney, Sears and Kohl’s. Amazon.com was the most visited website on Black Friday for the 7th year in a row.

Which retail model rules?

Fashion retailing – a perennially sexy sector for many professional investors – could become a little ragged around the edges as more players begin strutting their stuff on the profit ramp. Does that mean investors should re-look at some of the JSE’s mainstay fashion retailers, which have – save for the odd blip – generated smart returns over the past decade and a half? Maybe. The segment is changing style rather quickly.

Players traditionally not plying the fashion trade – most notably supermarket group Pick n Pay Holdings [JSE:PWK] – have over recent years thrown their hat into the ring. Meanwhile, market leaders Truworths, Mr Price and The Foschini Group (TFG) have been unrelenting in growing their businesses and fighting for market share.

In the process, small independent operators have been gradually evaporating (see Conservative Cinderella). Apart from the re-listing of sports retailer Holdsport (the former Moresport), there – perhaps significantly – hasn’t been a trend of fashion retailers pushing for listings on the JSE, not even during the mid-noughties small cap boom.

In fact, a number of fashion-related listings have disappeared off the JSE over the past two decades. They include Fashion African, Dynamo Retail, Romens and AK Peer’s much-loved LA Group.

Empowerment company Brimstone Investment Corporation [JSE:BRT] valiantly tried its hand at building a fashion house by leveraging off its clothing manufacturing capacity. Hosken Consolidated Investments appears to be considering something similar at Seardel with its Speedo brand, but the retail component will initially be on brand building rather than any chain store ambitions.

While breaking into a fashion retailing sector dominated by a handful of large players is no easy ask, Pick n Pay’s surprisingly strong clothing thrust has already rattled a few cages. The arrival of Walmart – the world’s biggest retailer – on our shores also means there’s a possibility of Massmart stepping on to the fashion retailing catwalk. Massmart already sells clothing in small quantities at its Makro outlets.

Zara – owned by Spanish group Inditex – is also expected to open its first store in Sandton (Johannesburg’s most affluent suburb) later this year. Though plainly speculative at this stage, some believe the coming of Zara may trigger other global players to also pursue SA’s fashion retail market.

“Africa is seen as a huge growth opportunity and SA has a fast-growing middle class,” says Abri du Plessis, chief investment officer at Gryphon Assert Management. “If Zara and the likes are interested in SA, others will definitely consider coming as well.”

SA’s clothing retail industry is estimated to be worth more than R50bn/year in turnover. Much of the sector’s growth has been achieved over the past two decades. Driving that expansion, as Du Plessis notes, has been the growth of SA’s middle class, which has benefited chains such as Truworths, TFG and Edgars that mainly target that market segment. The increased popularity of malls and bigger shopping centres has triggered the formalisation of the sector, with bigger players taking market share from independent “mum and dad” stores or relegating them to old CBD buildings.

Pick n Pay’s foray into apparel retailing hasn’t been modest but has yet to grab major headlines. The group initially had a clothing offering in its hypermarket stores. It opened its first stand-alone clothing outlet in 2002 in Menlyn Park, Pretoria. It now operates 60 clothing outlets: 50 corporate owned and 10 franchised.

Michael Coles, head of the group’s clothing division, says Pick n Pay aims to become one of the biggest clothing retailers countrywide over the next decade. “The clothing format has proved to be highly popular with our customers, with all stores contributing to group profitability,” he says. “Our clothing stores offer real growth opportunities for the future.”

Coles says growth has been great, with like-for-like sales growing by more than 10%. The group plans to add at least 10 outlets/year but could push that number to 20 when opportunities arise.

“This is a good opportunity for Pick n Pay,” says Simone Kruger, a retail analyst at Avior Research. “Though it’s still basic it gives them better margins.” She commends the group’s introduction of a more fashionable range as a step in the right direction.

Coles says the target market is essentially Pick n Pay’s food customer, with a wide appeal catering for all LSM ranks: a female shopper who buys for her family, but mainly looks for affordability.

Admittedly, it will take a while for Pick n Pay to reach the level of success its competitor Woolworths has achieved in offering a full line food and clothing product range. Woolies – a traditional apparel retailer – has an almost evenly split revenue stream coming from both its food and clothing businesses. Clothing gives Woolies better margins than food.

Massmart currently has no major plans for its clothing division. Other than its small range in Makro stores, it doesn’t have a retail division. However, new parent Walmart is big in clothing in the many countries it operates in. Kruger expects the merged entity to eventually venture into clothing retail in SA, though she says that’s still distant because Massmart’s current focus is food retailing. For that reason she doesn’t expect the arrival of Walmart and Inditex to shock the earnings of dominant players.

Pick n Pay still has a long way to go to pose significant competition to Mr Price and its ilk. Nevertheless, Du Plessis reckons things are poised to heat up. What will make it even more difficult is SA’s fragile textile industry. With the rand getting stronger, some retailers have hiked their imports from cheap Asian markets, such as China. Says Du Plessis: “The differentiator will be the quality of the product.”

CREDIT VS CASH

Paying premium

FOR INVESTORS, it’s often a question of credit versus cash when it comes to fashion retailers as an investment. Truworths and The Foschini Group (TFG) have the reputation of being the best credit retailers in the sector; Mr Price the king of cash.

Below we take a look at the three shares. We exclude Woolworths because of its significant exposure to food, which would distort our comparison.

The three shares seem to be mainstays in quite a number of well-regarded asset managers’ portfolios – judging by the latest unit trust holdings. Warren Buys, a portfolio manager at Cadiz Asset Management, says the big selling point for these growth funds is the large number of people in SA moving up the LSM curve. During the full blast of the recession credit retailers across the board took a dip in their earnings – in varying degrees, of course. TFG, being the weakest, was the hardest hit. However, cash-driven Mr Price had a ball.

MR PRICE GROUP

Mr Price Group [JSE:MPC] ’s story is intriguing. Largely aimed at the lower young LSM market, less than 15% of its sales are on credit. Its model has delivered handsomely over the years. The group has seen compound growth of 23,5% in headline earnings per share (HEPS) over the past 25 years, while dividends per share have grown by 25,3%. Coming from a very high base, the group pleasantly surprised many when it posted a 51% rise in HEPS in its 2011 financial year. It has over the years diversified its business and ventured into home textiles, kitchenware and home accessories through Mr Price Home and Sheet Street and has operations throughout Africa, where it wants to accelerate.

“Mr Price should be losing market share to the likes of Foschini and Truworths because credit sales are picking up – but it’s not. And that’s because of its huge appealing iconic brand,” says Chris Gilmour, a retail analyst at Absa Investments. He says Mr Price has developed a highly successful model of offering great fashion at cheap prices.

However, the question on most analysts’ lips is whether Mr Price will sustain its phenomenal growth when credit is expected to outperform cash. Gilmour says the group may loosen up on credit to extract maximum benefit of the upturn.

Abri du Plessis, an analyst at Cape Town-based Gryphon Asset Management, expects Mr Price to grow slower than Truworths and TFG over the next couple of years but says its performance will continue being robust, boosted by an increase in social grants recipients.

TRUWORTHS INTERNATIONAL

Truworths International [JSE:TRU] is often touted as the jewel of SA’s credit-orientated fashion retailers. It’s been consistent in performance, even throughout the recession. Once bundled with Woolworths to form the Wooltru Group, it’s been charting its own path since partially unbundled from Wooltru in 1998. The group operates more than 530 stores, with popular brands for young people such as Uzzi and LTD. Its emporium stores’ design and its ability to spot fashion trends have been its strong points compared with TFG.

Warren Buys, of Cadiz Asset Management, adds supply chain efficiencies have been another differentiating factor. “Truworths has operated on shorter lead times, which has enabled it to mitigate any problems with its ranges. Foschini’s lead times are longer, which makes it more difficult for it to make changes and limits any damage done as a result of getting its offerings wrong.”

If consistency and predictability are what you’re looking for, surely Truworths will impress you. In its past financial year it reported a 40% compound return on equity growth over the past decade. In its 2011 interim numbers it posted a 19% rise in HEPS and widened its trading space by 4% as it continues to open new stores. It said its debtors book continued to perform satisfactorily.

Though credit sales remained stagnant at 65%, its doubtful debt allowance and net bad debts to gross trade receivables improved to 10,1% (2009: 11,3%) and 7,5% (2009: 11,3%) respectively. It has predicted a lukewarm performance in its second half, which ends this month.

THE FOSCHINI GROUP

While Truworths’ track record over the past decade is impressive, some analysts believe the money is in TFG. The group began its upward cycle last year after about three years in a downward curve. Group CEO Doug Murray says the business is now in good shape. The group has invested time, money and energy re-engineering the business, particularly its division for women via Foschini [JSE:FOS].

It received much praise when it posted a sterling set of annual results for its 2011 financial year. Murray says TFG is growing ahead of its competitors, having achieved a 15% increase in retail turnover and a 21% hike in HEPS in the year to February. “We’re seeing the effects of our strategies in the supply chain. We’ve reduced lead times and established better relations with our suppliers.”

Nino Frodema, a portfolio manager at Metropolitan Asset Management, agrees. However, he says the group’s problems are not yet over. “We believe Foschini still has some work to do [in supply chains] – but it’s certainly made good progress.”

TFG is a much more complicated business than Truworths. It has a portfolio spanning apparel and jewellery retail and owns a majority stake in consumer finance group RCS. Among its popular apparel brands are Markham and Totalsports. Its jewellery portfolio includes leading chains American Swiss and Sterns. RCS extends credit to a number of retail chains, even those not owned by TFG. With the SA Reserve Bank widely expected to start lifting interest rates later this year, RCS is expected to boost TFG’s bottom line. Nedbank’s economic desk expects the hike to begin earlier next year, because the economy remains volatile.

Edcon and Pepkor

Still rule

“IF YOU AREN’T IN fashion, you’re nobody.” We believe that quote by British statesman Lord Chesterfield has some merit for Finweek readers. Let’s be honest: we all have our own favourite retail outlets. Asset managers will talk up Foschini because they can afford to shop there. Stockbrokers like Woolies because you can get your grub on the run along with your polyester suits. And journalists and those unfortunate Sharks supporters favour Mr Price because they don’t have too many choices.

However, none of that answers the question of how our readers are going to actually make any money by investing in South Africa’s fashion retailing sector. The acid test for us when we write about would-be investments is to take whatever money is in our wallets – normally not much, having blown it at Mr Price – and asking ourselves: “Would we put this money into the investments we’re writing about?”

In our view, the two best fashion retail investments aren’t even on the JSE… yet. Our first pick is Pepkor, the Christo Wiese controlled retailer. Investors can currently access Pepkor through investment holding company Brait. The company has recently undergone a restructuring, which sees it now as a majority shareholder in Pepkor and Premier Foods. There are a few other investments but nothing of any real substance. So if you put your money down you can effectively say you’re primarily a buyer of Pepkor.

Stockbrokerage Barnard Jacobs Mellet (BJM) recently encouraged clients with a high risk appetite to follow their rights at Brait, pointing out much of the new Brait’s NAV is made up of Pepkor. BJM notes: “Pepkor is currently undervalued relative to other SA clothing retailers and is likely to make up a considerable percentage of Brait’s NAV (around 70%).”

BJM also advises: “Recent corporate activities and price movements in the retail sector could provide upside for Pepkor and Premier, since high liquidity and greater transparency will impact positively on their valuation.”

The beauty of Brait is if you want to put your money into fashion retail now you get all the defensive characteristics of a cash retailer, coupled with plenty of upside. Simplistically, you’re paying a 10 times price earnings multiple against 13 to 15 for the other fashion retailers – receiving a comparable dividend yield and you get the reinforced balance sheet of Brait behind you. If the idea is to grow your footprint you can do so without tapping the market for expensive debt.

A straight price earnings valuation is important on a second front and that’s because as many as six offshore retail players are eyeing the African market through a South African entry. So there’s going to be competition for quality assets. With Walmart already setting a bar by paying 22 times earnings for Massmart, you have to ask how much room is left in the price of SA’s other retailers.

Throw in the fact that you’re paying a discount to NAV for Brait assets because of its investment holding company structure and you have to believe the patient investor can’t lose from here on.

The second play is Edcon, once the JSE’s retail darling but now out of sight and mind for most investors. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will remain there. Though there’s far less information about Edcon than there is on SA’s other listed retailers, we do know that for its past financial year it lost R1,6bn despite growing its trading profit by 14%. The losses incurred were due to derivative hedging and a R2,6bn interest bill, which all calls into question just how much value private equity firm Bain has created by taking this business private. That’s a far cry in profit from the R3bn in headline earnings and R22bn in revenue it was generating in the year it was de-listed.

As noted by Standard Securities in a recent note to clients, Edcon is still SA’s largest clothing retailer by both sales and cash flow. However, it’s heaving under a mountain of debt, taken on when the business was delisted. And that may see it come back to the market for an alternative source of funding.

But analysts say its future working capital investment is likely to continue to be constrained while it tries to balance its debt with cash flows – and that presents opportunities for other players. “As a result, the listed clothing players – TFG [the Foschini Group], Mr Price, Truworths and Woolworths, and unlisted Pepkor – are likely to continue to benefit from relative market share gains, in our view,” the firm advised clients.

Standard Securities says its preferred pick in the sector is Woolworths, saying Mr Price and Truworths are too “highly rated on a price earnings basis relative to their earnings prospects”.

While its debt is an obvious concern, what people forget about Edcon is it’s an absolute monster in SA’s retail sector. It has an 80-year trading history, 3,7m private label credit cards and it’s almost twice the size of its nearest competitor. Its credit and financial services business is what sets Edcon kilometres apart from its competitors. When it delisted in 2007 this division contributed around R360m in operating profit. That currently tops R1bn at a time when credit is tough to come by and consumers are cutting back on their spending.

You aren’t just acquiring a retailer but also a micro-lender with a massive balance sheet and reach. You have only to look at the cash flows African Bank generates (coupled with its attractive dividend yield) to understand why this is a good story.

When – not if – Edcon comes back to the market in time for the next consumer boom, shareholders are going to again be able to cash in. Why rush to put your money into a BMW 3-series like Mr Price or Woolies when you can conserve your capital for the Mercedes AMG with a bit of patience?

Just as we kicked off this report with a quote, we’re going to end with one from fashion guru Giorgio Armani. It might make investors think a little harder before putting their money into SA’s listed fashion retailers:

Armani said: “The goal I seek is to have people refine their style through my clothing without having them become victims of fashion.”
While there haven’t been too many successful entrants into South Africa’s competitive fashion retailing segment, Cape Town-based family-owned business Rex Trueform Clothing Company [JSE:RTO] has managed to carve out a very viable niche with its Queenspark chain. Queenspark was founded in the early Nineties as a sideline business to Rextru’s core clothing manufacturing operations. It didn’t take long for its retail arm to overtake and then render almost insignificant its traditional manufacturing business. In fact, Rextru’s clothing manufacturing arm probably earns the bulk of its keep manufacturing for Queenspark.

In the year to end-June 2010, Rextru generated profits before tax of R45m from turnover of R480m – showing a smart net operating margin of 9,4%. Things became even better in the interim period to end-December 2010, with turnover up 18% to R290m and pre-tax profits coming in 45% higher at R32m – meaning the all-important margin had extended to 11%.

But the most reassuring aspect of Rextru’s business model is its ability to pump cash. In the year to end-June last year its cash flow from operating activities was R53m – equivalent to more than 260c/share. Its interim operational cash flow was R37m, or 185c/share.

At current prices the Rextru ordinary and N-shares (as well as parent company Africa & Overseas Enterprises) represent remarkable value in a sector where earnings multiples are mostly in excess of 15 times. The discount (the market rates Rextru/Af&Over on a multiple of between five and seven times) placed on the share is only partly prompted by the fact that the company is so much smaller than its larger listed competitors.

Finweek believes the main reason for discounting Rextru’s prospects is because its controlling shareholders – the Shub family – rule the company with a conservative rod.

The Queenspark chain has been cautious, with the result that – other than Spur Corporation – there can’t be many other listed companies that hold such a large cash balance in relation to turnover and profit. At its interim stage Rextru held net cash of almost R150m – three times more than its last annual profit after tax number and equivalent to a rather hefty 750c/share. Its dividend policy also remains tight and earnings covered Rextru’s annual payout of 40c/share almost four times.

The critical question is whether Rextru needs to adopt a more aggressive model – especially in terms of expanding its Queenspark footprint. Brimstone is currently the biggest shareholder in Rextru, but its N-share and pyramid holding structure has left the empowerment group without much influence.

Whether Brimstone can coax Rextru’s controlling shareholders out of their conservative state to unlock both value and growth opportunities remains to be seen. There are market watchers who believe Brimstone should simply sell its stakes in Rextru and Af&Over to one of SA’s larger fashion retailers or perhaps dangle the stake in front of overseas players wanting to buy exposure in the local market.

Unfortunately, the Shub family’s artificial control of Rextru will probably keep a lid on any predator’s enthusiasm for acquiring a large stake in the company – even if such a large shareholding can be garnered at below fair value. Perhaps it wouldn’t really suit Rextru shareholders to see Queenspark swallowed up by a large listed fashion retailer.

A one-off settlement is one thing, but there’s the long-term potential to consider even if operations remain cloaked in conservatism. Rextru’s done the hard yards with the brand and it would be sad to see a large corporate walking off with the undeniable upside in the Queenspark business.

Then again, a company such as Pick n Pay – which is keenly aware of intricacies and eccentricities of family ownership and might want to expand its fashion retailing format – might make a far more sympathetic suitor or equity partner for Rextru.

Hispanic grocery stores find booming market in Valley.

Hispanic grocery stores — with their vast arrays of peppers and Mexican sweet breads — are steadily opening across the Valley, driven by an explosion in the population they cater to.

Garcia’s Market opened Thursday in Kerman. And just this spring, Sylmar-based Vallarta Supermarkets opened its fifth store in the central San Joaquin Valley, this one in Tulare.

“I’m sure there’s going to be more,” said Shane Anderson, a Commercial Retail Associates retail broker who helps landlords sign with retailers.

“Several of them we’re talking to have been up touring the Central Valley. It’s a matter of time before they start making deals.”

The interest from Hispanic grocers is far greater than that expressed by conventional grocery stores, he said. Traditional stores, which typically like to locate near new housing tracts, are waiting on the sidelines for building to bounce back, he said.

But Hispanic supermarket chains both big and small are realizing there is money to be made as the Hispanic population explodes.

Rapid growth

Hispanics are the majority in the Valley, according to census data released this spring, fueled by a big jump in the under-18 population.

The buying power of Hispanics nationwide is expected to grow by 50% between 2010 and 2015 to $1.5 trillion — a rate that eclipses all other racial and ethnic groups and overall spending growth, according to a yearly study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

Although many Valley Hispanics have lower incomes than their non-Hispanic counterparts, they spend a greater percentage of their income on food, according to Mintel, a national market research company.

That’s because Hispanics tend to have larger families, said Leylha Ahuile, a Mintel senior analyst.

Rebeca Garcia of Fresno, for example, shops for her family of six at El Super at Tulare and First streets in Fresno. Last week, she left with a cart piled high with food, including canned jalapeños, a large bag of apples and two trays holding 24 eggs each.

All that food will last one week, she said.

“It’s cheaper than other places,” Garcia said of El Super. “They have good specials.”

Anderson, the retail broker, says the Hispanic niche of customers still is underserved in the Valley.

Vallarta has opened stores in Fresno, Porterville and Visalia in recent years, and it opened its first Tulare store in April

. An executive has said that Vallarta plans to open more stores in the Valley. Chief Financial Officer John Marquis declined to comment last week on specific plans for the area.

“The company plans to continue to expand,” he said, noting that there is room for growth of Hispanic supermarkets in the Central Valley.

Kerman’s Garcia’s Market opened in the space Save Mart pulled out of last fall, citing the economy. It’s the Garcia family’s fourth store in the Valley. They also run stores in Modesto, nearby Riverbank and Mendota.

The family is planning to open more stores, possibly including one in Merced County, said Jesus Garcia, owner of the Kerman Garcia’s Market.

“The people in Kerman, they’re waiting for something,” he said, noting that the city has one other supermarket. “They want more options … to do their grocery shopping.”

Other Hispanic grocers, including El Super and Rancho San Miguel, also have established a presence in the Valley.

The stores sell many of the same products as traditional grocery stores, but some departments are vastly different.

Produce sections carry a much larger and varied selection of peppers. They also carry products that aren’t common in traditional supermarkets, including verdolagas, a Mexican parsley, or the Mexican green huazontle.

Meat counters are larger, carrying cuts of meat preferred in Mexico, and deli-style servings of queso fresco cheese.

And the larger supermarkets serve up fresh food like tacos and tamales, along with every flavor of “aguas frescas” drinks, and have large seating areas.

Ethel Rodriguez of Fresno shops at several stores, but buys Mexican sweet bread and canned enchilada sauces at Vallarta at Cedar and Dakota avenues in Fresno.

“They have all that type of stuff, more so than others,” she said.

The stores appeal to non-Hispanic customers, too, like Dianna Mangione of Fresno, who regularly shops the meat counter at El Super.

“It’s not necessarily because it’s Hispanic; it’s because it’s a better quality of meat,” she said.

A shifting marketplace

The Valley has always had a strong Hispanic population, and for years it’s been catered to by small mom-and-pop shops. But now, larger grocers are beginning to take over that role.

Walmart and other more traditional supermarkets also are trying to appeal to Hispanic customers, though on a smaller scale.

There have been some bumps along the way.

The Fiesta Foods Warehouse that opened at Kings Canyon Road and Willow Avenue is now empty and boarded up — but that had more to do with business decisions than a lack of customers.

Ontario-based Fiesta Foods wanted to own a store instead of rent, said Rick Amerine, a retail broker at Commercial West Associates. When the space at First and Tulare streets came up for sale, Fiesta bought it and opened a second store there.

But two Fiesta stores so close to each other was too many in a corridor saturated with grocery stores and a Walmart, Amerine said. The company closed the Kings Canyon store. El Super bought Fiesta and converted the Tulare Street store.

Still, many large companies based in Southern California and the Bay Area are expected to begin growing into the center of the state, Anderson said.

And at least one heavy hitter is in the early stages of finalizing new store locations, Amerine said. He declined to say who, but said the company is “a force to be reckoned with.”

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