On Wednesday, Tesco reports its latest set of annual results – and rarely has a major retailer be under so much scrutiny.
Tesco is expected to reveal another fall in profits, with Shore Capital forecasting a fall in the grocer’s core pre-tax profit of 10%.
Despite Tesco’s purported GBP1bn investment in price, stores and range in the UK, set out two years ago now, it has still seen its sales and market share come under pressure.
Tesco – as with its peers – has felt the impact of the continued rise of discount retailers in the UK but some feel the retailer has lost its point of difference. “They are not value, not quality, just everywhere,” Sanford Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne has said.
The departure of CFO Laurie McIlwee amid reported – although not confirmed – clashes with CEO Philip Clarke over strategy has only added to the sense of uncertainty around the business.
There are reported noises of discontent in Tesco’s investor base that the retailer has not tackled head-on the inroads the likes of Aldi and Lidl have made in the UK. Some analysts have said Tesco’s moves on price – its Price Promise scheme and more recently its fresh GBP200m investment – is doing little to win over consumers in the UK.
“Price Promise, which we increasingly struggle with as a tool as it just keeps telling customers how expensive Tesco is over its Big Four opponents and does not cover Aldi and Lidl, appears misaligned to the UK market,” Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said in a note to investors today. “One of our colleagues shopped at Tesco in the north-west of England on Friday 11 April and, on a GBP113 shop, Asda was GBP25 cheaper.”
All the while, Tesco is said to be looking at initiatives outside its core – including its curious reported food-to-go venture.
And, of course, the retailer has had its issues outside the UK, most recently in Europe. It has seen sales fall in each of its markets in recent quarters. In December, Tesco reported sequential improvement in Turkey and Poland but it still faces challenges and some of its measures to stem the tide are yet to bear fruit.
“Price Promise is not stemming a tide of material and sustained share decline in Ireland, the group’s most significant profit contributor in Europe,” Black wrote. “More broadly, we remain perplexed as to how Tesco’s European hypermarkets can compete and remain unsure as to management’s plans for the region.”
And, finally, for the first time in Clarke’s reign, there is chatter about potential replacements. On Saturday, The Daily Telegraph reported investors in Tesco had identified the boss of UK fashion retailer Monsoon Accessorize – and former Tesco executive – John Browett, and Dave Lewis, the head of Unilever’s personal care arm, as possible successors.
The Telegraph suggested City sources had said other “names in the frame” include Tim Mason, the former head of Tesco’s business in the US – who Tweeted the article over the weekend.
Such talk around Tesco is just that – talk – but it adds to the clouds swirling over the head of Clarke.