The Covid-19 pandemic caused sales to slump at retail giants Inditex and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) in November, reversing glimmers of a recovery and shining a light on the very different online sales performance between the two companies.
Shares in both companies fell in European trading, with Inditex, which owns Zara, trading near 2% lower and H&M dropping more than 2% on Tuesday.
The back story. As global coronavirus infection rates slowed through the summer and government restrictions were loosened, shoppers flocked back to stores after months of retail closures. Both Spanish Inditex and Swedish H&M—the largest and second-largest fashion chains in the world, respectively—returned to profitability in the autumn after large losses.
With the Covid-19 pandemic keeping millions of shoppers housebound, Inditex has made a key investment in expanding online shopping. In June, the company announced a €2.7 billion ($4.34 billion) investment plan to improve online operations and increase store footprint, of which €1 billion was earmarked for digital investments.
H&M, still controlled by its founding Persson family, was already struggling before the pandemic hit. The company has been slower to shift to online shopping in favour of its more than 5,000 stores and the low-cost fashion strategy it helped pioneer.
What’s new. Both companies reported results on Tuesday—Inditex for the three months to the end of October, and H&M for the quarter ending Nov. 30 as well as the full year.
Store and online sales grew slowly from August to October at Inditex, with October sales at 94% of 2019 levels at constant currencies. In total, net sales of €6.1 billion in the third quarter were 14% lower than the same period in 2019. However, as coronavirus cases surged in November, 21% of stores remained closed and sales fell to 81% of 2019 levels.
At H&M, net sales for the fourth quarter were 10% lower in local currencies from the same period last year. Much of that came in the final month: sales were down by just 3% year-over-year from Sept. 1 to Oct. 21, but were 22% lower than 2019 in the period from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30.
Looking ahead. The results from the retail giants show the impact the second wave of Covid-19 has brought on sales. Fears over how much this hurts the bottom line for the full year is what may have caused both stocks to fall.
But the results also shine a light on the companies’ different online strategies—a crucial sales platform beyond the pandemic. Inditex reported that online sales grew 76% in the nine months to the end of October, while analysts expect H&M to lag far behind. The Swedish retailer didn’t post any fresh online figures on Tuesday. It had posted online sales growth of 40% in the second quarter and just 27% in the third.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
The latest hike is unlikely to be the last as inflation remains stubbornly high
In a decision that will surprise few economists – or borrowers – the RBA announced a further 0.25 percent rise in interest rates when it met earlier this afternoon. This brings the current interest rate up to 3.35 percent, a 3.25 percent increase since May last year.
Prior to today’s announcement, when the interest rate was still 3.1 percent, research by Roy Morgan released at the end of last month revealed that 23.9 percent of Australian mortgage holders were ‘at risk’ of mortgage stress in the three months to December 2022. Mortgage stress is where one third or more of weekly household income is going towards mortgage repayments.
In a tight rental market, mortgage pressure has also lead more landlords to pass rate rises onto tenants.
Research director at CoreLogic, Tim Lawless, says the latest rate rise moves beyond the ‘serviceability assessments’ some borrowers passed when applying for their loans.
“Since October 2021, lenders have assessed new borrowers on their ability to service a mortgage under an interest rate scenario that is at least 300 basis points above their origination rate,” he said. “The latest lift in the cash rate will push these recent borrowers beyond their serviceability tests.
“Considering most lenders were showing mortgage arrears to be around record lows last year, it’s likely some evidence of rising mortgage stress will start to emerge in 2023 under such substantially higher interest rate settings, with the potential for a more noticeable lift as further fixed rate borrowers migrate over to variable mortgage rates.”
Today’s decision signals the RBA’s continued efforts to use the cash rate to manage inflation, which sits at 7.8 percent annually. Time will tell whether it has been successful in curbing spending or whether, as many predict, there are more rate rises on the way. Mr Lawless said overseas economies could offer some hope to borrowers.
“Global inflationary pressures are easing, and domestically, a relatively weak December retail spending result could be the first clear sign that consumers are reigning in their spending,” he said. “Additionally, the housing component of CPI, which has the largest weight of any sub-group, dropped sharply through the final quarter of 2022, albeit from the highest level since the mid-1990s (outside of the impact from the introduction of GST in 2000).
“Mainstream forecasts for the cash rate reflect the uncertainty around inflation outcomes, ranging from the RBA holding the cash rate at 3.35 percent, through to another 75 basis points of hikes. However, a recent survey from Bloomberg puts the median forecast at 3.6 percent, implying one more hike of 25 basis points in the wings.”
Becoming Australia’s most expensive property sale of 2021.