May 18, 2009
Furniture retailer Lewis Group delivered a resilient performance in the year to 31 March 2009 as the group posted solid revenue growth, strong cash flows and maintained its dividend at 323 cents per share.
Group chief executive, Alan Smart, described trading conditions as “the most demanding experienced in the credit retail sector for many years.”
Revenue increased by 6% to R3.8 billion, a pleasing result in the current climate. Revenue has shown an improving trend in the latter stages of the year and increased by 6.6% in the second half relative to 5.0% in the first six months.
Smart said the financial stress on consumers resulted in the group’s debtor costs increasing from 6.5% to 10.0% of net debtors’ and this contributed to headline earnings per share declining by 7.6% to 637.1 cents.
He said the Lewis business model has shown its resilience and will remain a key differentiator in a market where competitors have separated their furniture retail and financial services businesses and centralised credit collections. “Operating margin at 22% continues to reflect the underlying strength of the business model.”
“Our store based model ensures that long-term relationships are developed with customers and this, together with integrated credit and marketing strategies, results in a high level of repeat business.”
The Lewis division, which accounts for 82% of merchandise sales, increased revenue by 5.7%. Best Electric was boosted by the introduction of furniture ranges into stores and lifted revenue by 9.1%. The chain has been rebranded as Best Home and Electric to reflect this change in the merchandise offering. Revenue in Lifestyle Living, which targets higher income earners, was the same as last year.
The group has remained strongly cash generative, with a 20.4% increase in cash generated from operations to R670 million, mainly through efficient cost and working capital management.
Credit risk management strategies have been consistently applied through the group’s centralised credit granting process. The decline rate of credit applications has increased from 22.5% in 2008 to 25.4%, evidence of the higher levels of consumer over-indebtedness.
The doubtful debt provision for the period was 15.7% of net debtors (2008: 13.5%). The movement in the doubtful debt provision was well contained in the second half of the year, increasing by R46 million relative to an increase of R91 million in the first six months.
Smart said the group’s store based collections model is proving effective in the current environment as direct monthly contact with customers provides an early indication of payment difficulties.
Discussing the prospects for the year ahead, Smart said continued government and private sector infrastructure spend supports ongoing job creation and retention in several sectors of the Lewis target market.
“However, rising retrenchments and unemployment remains one of the major risks facing the South African economy in the year ahead. The group’s national store base and diverse customer profile should limit the impact of unemployment affecting a particular sector of the economy or geographic region.”
A cautious expansion programme will see 20 to 25 stores opened across the three trading brands. Lewis is also well positioned to benefit from increased customer traffic as a result of store and brand consolidation among competitors.
“While trading conditions are expected to remain difficult, the improving trend in revenue growth and the slowing bad debt provision in recent months provide encouraging signs for the year ahead. Sales for the first six weeks of the new financial year continued to improve on the positive trend of recent months,” he said.
Alan Smart will be retiring as CEO in September 2009 and will be succeeded by Johan Enslin.