At what was apparently the most active AGM ever attended by chairman John Dahlsen, Australia’s second largest supermarket group Woolworths warned shareholders that it was experiencing a decline in growth over the financial year. Yesterday’s meeting (20 November) saw CEO Roger Corbett blaming poor economic conditions and the failure of the Ezy Banking venture to reach profit for the distinctly mediocre forecasts.

Woolworths enjoyed a strong performance in Q1, but Corbett warned: “we may not enjoy sales at this outstanding level throughout the year.” Despite expecting no double-digit sales growth, however, he remained optimistic for a “satisfactory Christmas” and Dahlsen reiterated the importance of Project Refresh, which will continue throughout the year towards delivering annual cost savings of A$134m.

Dahlsen also remained hopeful on the success of Ezy Banking. “I’m sure it will be [profitable] in the not too distant future,” he said, revealing that as many as 5,000 new customers were joining every week to a core of 220,000 people.

The contentious issue to arrive was the consideration of a A$780m share buyback scheme, involving up to one million shares. Dahlsen stressed that this was not, as yet, approved. Action on this issue is dependent, he says, on what happens over the next few months with a number of potential bolt-on acquisitions.

The December arrival of German discount retailer Aldi to Australia was also on the meeting agenda, but Woolworths dismissed the suggestion that this will impact on its market share. “We’re ready for them,” asserted Dahlsen.

“Woolworths has been growing at a rapid rate so it comes as no surprise that they expect only modest growth,” said one analyst, but still the announcement prompted a fall in stock value as shareholders rushed to dump their Woolworths shares. After reaching a high of A$6 only last week, shares immediately fell to A$7.85.