All Eyes on Tesco's Results

LONDON -- All eyes will be on Tesco (LSE: TSCO.L  ) when it announces its interim results on Wednesday this coming week.

Britain's No. 1 supermarket with a market share of over 30% -- streets ahead of rivals J Sainsbury, Wm Morrison, and Wal-Mart-owned Asda -- issued its first profit warning in 20 years following poor Christmas trading.

Moreover, Tesco acknowledged its home market performance in 2011-2012 reflected deeper-rooted problems. The group had been over-greedy in its U.K. business -- "running the stores too hot," as chief executive Philip Clarke put it -- to squeeze out cash to fund international expansion.

Tesco's results on Wednesday will give us an idea of how Clarke's plans to get U.K. operations back on track are progressing. News on two or three other areas of the company's activities will also be keenly scrutinized by shareholders.

Group
Let's begin with Tesco's overall performance. How will the group have performed in the first half compared with last year's first half? And is it on track to meet analysts' consensus forecasts for this year's key full-year numbers? Here's your cut-out-and-fill-in table!

 

H1 2011/12

FY 2011/12

H1 2012/13

Forecast FY 2012/13

Forecast FY growth

Revenue* (billion pounds)

32.2

65.2

?

67.2

3.1%

Trading profit (billion pounds)

1.8

3.8

?

3.6

(3.0%)

Trading margin

5.5%

5.8%

?

5.4%

 

Underlying profit before tax (billion pounds)

1.9

3.9

?

3.8

(4.0%)

Underlying earnings per share (diluted; in pence)

18.3

37.4

?

35.1

(6.3%)

Dividend per share (pence)

4.63

Final: 10.13

Total: 14.76

?

14.83

0.5%

*Excluding VAT, including petrol.

In a June trading update, the company said: "At this early stage of the year, we are performing in line with market expectations for the Group." In spite of that, analysts' views on full-year EPS vary widely from the consensus, ranging from a low of 29.9 pence to a high of 37.3 pence.

On trading profit, look out for how this number measures up against the forecast of one of Tesco's three house brokers for a first-half fall of 9% to just over 1.6 billion pounds.

Personally, I think the number to keep a particular eye on will be the level of the interim dividend, which could be the truest barometer of management's confidence in getting the U.K. business back on track this year. An interim above 4.8 pence would be very encouraging, a modest sub-inflationary increase would be in line with market expectations, and a flat dividend would suggest management could be cautious on how things are progressing. A dividend cut would be a real shocker.

U.K. operations
The key U.K. operational number to watch out for -- an indicator of how management action to turn around the core home supermarket business is going -- is U.K. like-for-like sales (excluding VAT and petrol).

The table below shows the trajectory across the past five quarters.

 

Q1 2011/12

H1 2011/12

Q3 2011/12

Q4 2011/12

Q1 2012/13

Growth

(0.1%)

(0.9%)

(0.9%)

(1.6%)

(1.5%)

Another quarter of -1.5% or, heaven forbid, a slide back to negative growth of worse than -1.5% would be hugely shocking. In fact, any negative growth worse than, say, -0.5% would be a disappointment. One of Tesco's house brokers is forecasting a flat U.K. performance for Q2, while another is actually forecasting positive like-for-likes of a modest 0.1%.

International operations
Tesco's nascent "Fresh & Easy" U.S. business is currently a small part of the group's international operations -- and a detractor from profits, being loss-making -- but it will perhaps be the part of global operations shareholders are most keen to hear news on. Earlier this year, the company put back the breakeven date of Fresh & Easy from the current financial year to 2013-2014.

As recently as last week, Tesco's chief executive insisted he would continue to persist with Fresh & Easy, having previously said there would be a significant reduction in losses during the current year.

In the first half of last year, Fresh & Easy made a trading loss of 73 million pounds on revenue of 300 million pounds. One of the house brokers has penciled in a loss of 70 million pounds for this year's first half. A lack of progress or even a serious deterioration of prospects might not actually hurt Tesco's share price as a number of major shareholders have been calling for the company to pull out of the U.S.

Results checkout
Tesco is probably one of the most popular shares with small U.K. investors. It's also a favorite of legendary U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett. In fact, Buffett bought a trolley-load of Tesco shares earlier this year.

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G.A. Chester does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares in Tesco. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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