A little "modestly" goes a long way
A ‘modest’ upgrade it may be, but Next's improved assessment of the effectiveness of remediation efforts has gone a long way to repairing sentiment. The announcement of a further share buyback is officially new though we had spotlighted the strong possibility of it occurring judging from management hints at the time of the last trading update on 3rd August. We don’t think we’re alone in already having priced in another cash return. The stock was flat since early August before today’s surge, having jumped on the prior update. It therefore makes sense to attribute Thursday’s rise of as much as 13% largely to confirmation of the group’s digital growth.
The 1.2% decline in full-priced sales leaving total sales 2.3% lower on the year was also already reported with the second quarter update, so attention should rather be on details below headline outcomes. Of these, the breakdown of Next’s newly segmented online shop, Directory, steals the show. Full-price sales via Label, the group’s outlet for third-party brands rose 40.6% in H1, accelerating almost 20 percentage points to 50.4% between the end of Q1 and end Q2. It’s this corroboration of the encouraging seam first spotlighted in August that the market is reacting so well to; perhaps overreacting so well to, admittedly.
Keeping faith in stores
Whilst Next's interim commentary underscores the digital uplift, by noting only "marked divergence" between stores and online sales the group remains obdurate—officially—in the face of long-term structural headwinds that stores face. The group has only let an extensive store opening and refit programme ‘slip’ (it suggests unintentionally) by a modest amount. Even so, store efficiency also slipped. Next accepts it “overestimated the uplift on sales that could be generated from the cosmetic element” of upgrading a handful of stores. These failed to meet targets after extension and refit. The group indicates that allocating upgrade expenditure to capital instead of cosmetic capex was also a misstep. It looks like a minor one. However, we will keep an eye on medium-term annual cosmetic capital expenditure as it is now expected to rise to an average of £16m annually from £11m. All told, whilst barely concerning. The store efficiency downtick demonstrates that Next’s decision to push ahead with physical space expansion will frequently be challenged.
Margin erosion, a bigger concern, has, again, also been all but directly flagged throughout the half year. If anything, the 290 basis point reduction of Retail margin guidance to 11.8% looks increasingly provisional given the turnaround of efficiency in warehousing/distribution, printed media, central overheads and markdowns. Even excising the ‘easy’ comparable third quarter in 2016, improved sales and unbudgeted savings (offset by weak clearance) will still have pushed annual profit up £7m, albeit the weather has been on Next’s side. We assume more intemperate winter conditions into year-end but still see a re-rating as increasingly overdue
Whilst more than intrigued by Next’s discovery of what looks at first blush to be a successful formula to access the transfer of retailing on to the web, we think signs that the stock is getting technically over-extended are mounting.
- For one thing the Relative Strength Index momentum gauge has now reached its highest in slightly more than two years. The tape shows Next’s RSI can certainly go higher, though it’s worth bearing in mind that the last time its RSI was at the current extent, slightly above 80 at the time of writing, the stock was some 35% higher
- Furthermore having partially closed— in May and August—the gap that opened January, Next shares have on Thursday extended it with their latest surge.
- There’s a moderate chance that 3rd January’s low, a day before shares tanked as much as 15% on poor Christmas trading, will now support. Spike highs on 3rd August at 4497p and/or 12th September at 4449p, are likelier to fulfil that role
- The wider band of 4393p-4497p should generally uphold this increasingly volatile stock. If not, the market is very likely to look to the commencement of the current up leg at 4023p. That coheres quite nicely with another pre-gap high, 4032p, on 2nd August. (The gap has now been filled.)
- We think a decline in the near term has a low probability, though if seen we would look to for a floor at the lower swing low of 3565p (on 12th July) to kick in before the post Brexit vote floor of 3471p
- Top side, a first target of November 2016’s failure higher at 5108p is enough to be getting on with for now
DAILY CHART: NEXT PLC
Source: Thomson Reuters and City Index
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