Woolworths posts impressive profit

Johannesburg – Retailer Woolworths Holdings [JSE:WHL] reported a 21% rise in first-half profit chiefly as a result of contributions from its recent acquisition in Australia.

Woolworths, which sells food and clothes, said headline earnings per share totalled 164.2 cents in the six months to end-December compared with 135.7 a year earlier.

The results were boosted Woolworths’ purchase last August of Australian fashion retailer Witchery Group in a $181m deal to expand into the Asia-Pacific region.

Woolworths, similar in style and products to Britain’s Marks & Spencer Group said total sales rose 18% to R16.7bn with its Australian business delivering a 55.6% surge in sales.

South African retailers have been popular among investors for more than a year due to the credit-led shopping spree, but their shares have tumbled in recent weeks on growing worries consumers are too heavily indebted to sustain recent levels of sales growth.

Woolworths is expected to fare better than rivals such as Truworths International [JSE:TRU] and Shoprite Holdings [JSE:SHP] as it serves the more resilient high-income consumers.

“We expect sales growth to be broadly in line with the first half,” the company said in a statement.

Shares in Woolworths are down about 7% so far this year, largely in line with the broad sell-off of local retailers but underperforming a near 5% gain on the blue-chip JSE Top 40 – (Tradeable) [JSE:J200] index.

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