WM Morrison Supermarkets plc Urgently Needs To Do A Tesco PLC!

The future of troubled supermarket giant Tesco (LSE: TSCO) is far from assured but at least new boss Dave Lewis has a plan to turn things round.

I wish I could say the same about its even more troubled rival WM. Morrison Supermarkets (LSE: MRW). It urgently needs a Dave at the helm (everybody needs a Dave) because after another dreadful Christmas, it’s in danger of disappearing off the radar.

It has an opportunity with the news that chief executive Dalton Philips will be stepping down after the final results are published in mid-March.

Morrisons’ share price has fallen 38% since he was appointed five years ago, although it recovered 6% of that when markets learned that he was leaving.

Philips was certainly right to walk the plank, after a miserable 3.1% drop in like-for-like sales over the key six-week Christmas trading period, a notably worse performance than its rivals.

No More Steady As She Goes

That wasn’t the only disappointment. While Dave Lewis is taking drastic steps to turn Tesco around, selling private jets, shutting stores, closing the HQ and terminating the final salary pension scheme, Morrisons has been far more modest.

The biggest disappointment in its results was the decision to close just 10 loss-making stores, against 43 at Tesco plus another 49 cancelled openings.

One of few things Morrison could boast about was its property portfolio. It is selling £500 million of property assets this year, but could have done a lot more to help boost the numbers.

If the board appoints the right replacement for Philips, it might still happen.

Nowhere Men

Morrisons needs more than fiddling at the edges, it wants a complete brand overhaul.

It seemed to rise from nowhere, only to lose its way, and unless it wants to return to nowhere drastic action is required now. News that it has finally completed one million internet orders just felt too little, too late.

Trouble In Store

Be warned, if Morrisons gets its very own drastic Dave, investors may not like the results.

By far the most tempting reason to invest in Morrisons is its storming yield, currently around 7%. Management has pledged to defend that, while Tesco slashed its dividend by 75% and completely scrapped the final payout.

While I would hate to see such a juicy income stream get the chop (highly likely under new management) it might be a price worth paying if it was part of an aggressive recovery plan.

Right now, we don’t know who will replace Philips. That doesn’t worry markets today, they are just pleased that someone will.

Let’s hope the new boss has a free hand to carry out radical surgery, a la Lewis. Otherwise Morrisons faces a lingering death.

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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.