It’s not all merry and bright

A number of retailers are facing an uncertain future as they mull over Christmas trading figures and venture into 2019.

Top of the list of retailers needing a major helping hand from Santa is the Myer department store group, which continues to bleed sales and earnings while trying to fend off attacks from its largest shareholder, Solomon Lew.

Following leaked trading information to the Australian Financial Review and a demand for an explanation from the Australian Stock Exchange, Myer admitted its sales for the first quarter of the current financial year had fallen 4.8 per cent.

Comparable sales fell 4.3 per cent for the first three months, resulting in a trading loss, albeit a lower loss than for the same period last financial year, according to Myer.

The leak to the media came as Myer refused to divulge its trading position, defying demands from Lew for the information ahead of its annual meeting.

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Myer has attempted to stifle negative commentary by abandoning the practice of quarterly sales reports, but the size of the sales decline arguably should have been provided to shareholders as a material change.

Myer shares are sinking to penny dreadful levels under 40¢ with little evidence that the company’s turnaround plans have any real traction, and with the retailer under sustained pressure from Lew after a $486 million loss booked for FY18.

Hostile takeover threat as shares plummet

While Lew has laid siege to the Myer board, The Reject Shop is now facing a potential hostile $78 million takeover from the Kin Group through an entity known as Allensford.

Reject Shop directors have urged shareholders not to accept the takeover offer because they claim it significantly undervalues the chain of discount variety stores.

The Reject Shop’s sales have flatlined in recent years, with its share price falling to less than $3 from a high of $14.77 in August 2016.

Allensford will need to increase its bid of $2.70 a share if it is to proceed with a takeover.

Directors of the Reject Shop claim the takeover overtures are opportunistic, feeding on a 40 per cent earnings downgrade announced in October following subdued sales and a selldown of holdings by institutional shareholders.

The Godfreys vacuum cleaner chain is another retailer facing uncertainty headed into 2019 following the death of its founder and white knight, John Johnston.

Johnston repurchased the struggling Godfreys chain shortly before his 100th birthday believing he could turn around its fortunes by taking it private after an underwhelming four years on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Johnston developed a plan with the chain’s management to remodel stores, close some unprofitable outlets, revise a franchise system and revamp marketing. It is understood that Johnston did have a succession plan and ownership arrangements in place in the event of his death, but the Godfreys chain’s future remains uncertain, with a large part of its value locked up in the real estate it owns.

Laura Ashley flops again

The future doesn’t look all that promising in Australia for fashion retailer Laura Ashley, which has appointed KordaMentha as administrators following mounting debts. Laura Ashley collapsed two years ago when it operated 38 stores under a license agreement with the renowned British retailer.

The new appointment involves 18 stores and, according to KordaMentha, is the result of “a becalmed retail environment, rising fixed costs and fierce competition from online retailers”.

KordaMentha has indicated the immediate priorities for the administrators are to review the shape of the business, call for expressions of interest in buying the stock and licence and to clear as much stock as possible in the pre-Christmas period.

While Laura Ashley is an iconic brand that has been in Australia since 1971, the prospects of finding a new buyer after two financial collapses in two years are hardly promising.

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