Suddenly Everybody Wants To Buy Tesco PLC… But Should You?

How quickly market sentiment turns. Last year, investors couldn’t dump besieged and beleaguered Tesco (LSE: TSCO) (NASDAQOTH: TSCDY.US) fast enough. Suddenly, they can’t wait to get back in.

A little bit of good news, or rather less-bad-than-expected news, and the Tesco share price leaps 12% in a day.

It now trades at 203p, up 30% from its 52-week low of 155p, but still way below its year high of 341p.

That suggests there may be plenty of upside left, and many private investors will be keen to get in early.

But can Tesco and new boss Dave Lewis keep the momentum going?

Looking For Lewis and Clarke

Right now, Lewis has the right strategy and attitude. He has ditched predecessor Philip Clarke’s fanciful notions of restoring Tesco’s pre-eminence by turning it into a destination for the latte-sipping classes, realising that more drastic measures were required.

The accounting scandal (nine suspensions and rising…) and Tesco’s extravagant fleet of private jets will have confirmed Lewis’ suspicions that the retailer’s problems ran deep in its culture.

This will have helped his restructuring push, by giving him the unchallengeable power to drive through his turnaround strategy.

Follow The Leader

The result: 43 store shutdowns (and 49 openings scrapped), a renewed price offensive, the closure of its Cheshunt HQ and the termination of its final salary pension scheme.

The unions hated the plans, but the City was heartened by signs of positive leadership.

Investors overlooked the decision to cancel this year’s final dividend and Moody’s decision to downgrade Tesco debt to junk status on Friday.

Moody’s warned that recent changes will “take time to implement”, and said Tesco is still at the sharp end of structural shifts in the grocery market.

Consumer Power

The onward march of Aldi and Lidl will continue to seize market share, although I suspect this will be at a slower pace, as the novelty wears off and (hopefully) earnings start to rise in real terms this year. The falling oil price, if it continues, will also put money into consumers’ pockets.

Not every investor was convinced by the turnaround plan. Barclays Stockbrokers reported a surge in Tesco activity last week, but with 83% of client trades were sales, as investors look to take unaccustomed profits from the higher share price.

It is too early to give Tesco a clean bill of health, Lewis still has an enormous amount of work to attract shoppers through its doors again. But he is a man with a mission, and right now, looks to be on the right track.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of Tesco. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.