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Is now the time to invest in Sainsbury’s shares?

After its failed merger attempt with Asda, supermarket chain J Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY) has been having a tough year. In the last 12 months its share price has dropped by almost 40%, and the company has been weighed by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit – food supply disruptions an on-going threat for the company depending on the exact terms of the deal (or indeed no-deal).

It may surprise you to hear that I think Sainsbury’s may be an investment worth considering.

Cheap returns

Firstly, Sainsbury’s shares are currently offering a dividend yield of about 5.5%, far outweighing the numbers of its listed rivals Tesco and WM Morrison, which return 2.6% and 3.3% respectively. Furthermore, the share price declines of the last 12 months now make the stock cheap, with a P/E ratio of just 9, again beating Tesco and Morrison’s that both have P/E numbers in the 13-14 range.

The other number I analysed recently that cannot help but make me think Sainsbury’s shares are currently oversold is the company’s book value. Effectively measuring how much the company is worth if it were wound down right now, Sainsbury’s figure comes in at about £3.80 per share – far above today’s current price of £1.97.

Again compared to Tesco and Morrison’s, this number offers both the largest value and is the only one of the three above the current share price. Tesco’s book value is about £1.50 per share compared to the current £2.20 stock price, while Morrison’s is £1.80 vs. a £1.95 share price.

Some concern

This isn’t to say there is nothing to be concerned about however. My main concern is due to the broad moves the world has seen in recent years away from bricks-and-mortar stores to the world of online retail. Consumers are becoming ever more tech-savvy, and the convenience of smartphones, tablets and universal broadband continue to boost online retail. Sainsbury’s, while perhaps not part of a dying industry, is certainly a key player in one that needs to adapt.

On the plus side though, all the signs are that the company is attempting to do this. Recently rumours emerged that talks may be underway with Uber Eats regarding a partnership for grocery delivery services, while the company is already participating in a two-month trial with Deliveroo, to test the viability of delivering freshly-baked pizzas.

Meanwhile, away from its core grocery ops, sales in other areas of its business have been under pressure of late, Sainsbury’s reporting earlier this month that for the 16 weeks to the end of June, clothing sales were down 4.5% while general merchandise sales were down 3.1%. It should be noted though that these are both areas very susceptible to the weather — unsurprisingly fewer shorts, T-shirts and sun loungers are sold in bad weather.

I think it is fair to say Sainsbury’s shares may not be the surest investment I have ever talked about, and it is perfectly possible that the shares will fall lower before reaching what I think is their true value. That said, I think even with concerns surrounding the future of high street retail, Sainsbury’s shares may just be worth investing in for those who can hold them for the long term.

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Karl owns shares in J Sainsbury. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Tesco. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.