Sunday 18 March 2018

Share Watch: Metro AG - Many changes in store for German retailer

Metro Group 5-year share price
Metro Group 5-year share price

John Lynch

Metro AG is a German wholesale and retail foods giant, which proves if there is the energy, determination and an accommodating bank manager, no amount of growth or global scale is impossible.

Though scarcely more than 50 years in existence, it has powered along during that half century, earning its status among the legendary retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco.

And while it is challenged by the many eddies of shifting power in global retail, it has proven itself as an effective deal-maker which will stand it in good stead. Based in Dusseldorf, it employs over 200,000 staff around the world, with global sales of €59bn.

The company focuses on cash and carry shops, supermarkets and consumer electronics. Up to recently it also owned Galeria Kaufhof, the department store chain that was a symbol of the post-reunification changes in Berlin in the 1990s. Last summer it was sold to the Canadian giant, Hudson's Bay Company. The company is the oldest company in North America with roots back to the fur trade. It is also making its first foray into the European market where it is anxious to introduce its Saks Fifth Avenue brands.

Metro was able to pocket €2.2bn as part of the deal and the market quite liked to see the company's debt alleviated in this way.

At the moment Metro is restructuring as it attempts to transform itself amid the changing business conditions, as technology and low cost competition challenges. Its home market in Germany is its largest, with sales of €23bn, or 38pc of total sales. Sales outside Germany amount to €36bn of which Western Europe accounts for almost half. It generates sales of €4bn in Asia-Africa and is hanging in there despite seeing Carrefour and Tesco beat a retreat from these markets.

Metro's cash and carry business, with sales of €30bn and 760 outlets, is the company's most important division, accounting for almost half of group sales.

However, sales in the cash and carry business declined last year, as did earnings, largely due to the negative currency effects in Russia. Political tensions have also forced the company to shelve its plans for a stock listing of its Russian cash and carry business. Metro is one of Europe's biggest retailers of consumer electronics through its Media Markt and Saturn chains, having 1,000 stores in 15 countries.

Sales last year increased to €22bn and with earnings improving, thanks to the company's cost reduction programme.

Like most retailers in this sector in the developed world, Metro is in the process of a transformation from bricks and mortar to a multi-distribution operation.

Interestingly, internet sales jumped 20pc and now stand at €1.8bn, or 8pc of Media-Saturn sales. However, it faces formidable competition not just from Amazon but from big German mail order companies like Neckurman.

The company's food division has 300 supermarkets and hypermarkets. Unfortunately this is not an attractive space as it's under severe pressure from the low-cost retailers, Aldi and Lidl, as well as internet shopping and convenience stores.

Sales plunged 8pc last year to €7.7bn and earnings hit €88m. It is no surprise the number of outlets declined last year.

Revenue for 2015 fiscal year fell 1pc to €59bn and while the company admits to 'challenging' conditions, investors once again loved to see the dividends rise. The share price is just up from its yearly low of €25 but way off its 10-year high of €65 back in 2007. While Metro sales have held up, its shares have lost half of its value in the last five years.

The company is currently valued at €8bn and its latest figures saw earnings at €435m above analysts' expectations. The group debt, which was much alleviated by the judicious sale of the Galleria Kaufhof chain, still has a considerable €2.5bn worth of borrowings nestling in its balance sheet. Many investors would rightly be wary of this sector and I can understand why.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.

Irish Independent

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