J Sainsbury plc’s Sales Continue To Fall

Sainsbury’s (LSE: SBRY) posted a fifth straight quarter of declining underlying sales this morning, and warned that it did not expect trading to improve any time soon. 

For the 10 weeks to March 14, the final quarter of the group’s financial year, sales at stores open at least a year fell 1.9%. This figure was worse than the sales decline of 1.7% reported for the third quarter.

City analysts were expecting Sainsbury’s to report a fourth-quarter sales decline of 2%, so the company beat expectations for the period. Sainsbury’s itself had predicted a fourth-quarter sales decline of 2.4%.

But despite that fact that the company beat expectations, management warned today that Sainsbury’s expects the “market to remain challenging for the foreseeable future“. Food deflation and competitive pressures on price all taking their toll on the company’s sales. 

Nevertheless, after spending £150m slashing the prices on more than 1,100 items since November, Sainsbury’s now believes that its “price position relative to our major competitors has never been stronger“.  And the figures support this statement.

During the company’s fourth quarter, sales of items that had been reduced in price rose by 3%. Additionally, convenience store sales rose by 14% during the period while general merchandise and clothing sales grew by 6%.

So, while Sainsbury’s headline figures are nothing to get excited about, the group is still making solid progress in many areas. 

Making progress

Sainsbury’s fourth-quarter trading figures may have surpassed expectations but the company is not out of the woods just yet. Headwinds remain in the form of the discounters, Aldi and Lidl, both of which continue to report rapidly expanding sales.  

Still, data from Kantar Worldpanel, the consumer research group, shows that in the past month Sainsbury’s performance has been improving. Indeed, Kantar’s data indicated that in the four weeks to March 1, Sainsbury’s sales only declined by 0.6%, the second best performance of the big four supermarkets. Tesco came in first place with sales growth of 0.1% reported. 

However, these figures have been skewed somewhat by an early Mothering Sunday, which has pulled sales forward. 

Time to buy?

Today’s results from Sainsbury’s seem to have impressed the market, but now is not the time to buy in my opinion. 

Sainsbury’s still has a long road ahead of it and as the supermarket price war intensifies, the company could find itself struggling to compete with larger, more aggressive peers.  

On the other hand, Sainsbury’s low valuation make the company’s shares look attractive at present levels. The company is currently trading at a forward P/E of 10.3 and City analysts expect the company to offer a dividend yield of 4.9% this year. 

But the rapid growth for Sainsbury's are now over and investors shouldn't expect fireworks from the company any time soon. However, if you are looking for an exciting investment, our analysts have recently identified a stock that could drive a three-fold increase in sales in just five years.

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