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Clicks rides out the darkness as its stores keep the lights on

| Retailer trading results

Clicks Group on Thursday said it continued to trade well, despite the depressed consumer environment, increasing group revenue for the six months ended February by 14.2% to R11.2bn.

But the health and beauty chain also cautioned that load shedding in winter posed a risk for its second half sales.

Electricity constraints have already caused the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to cut the country’s growth forecast; they said power shortages were one of the biggest impediments to growth.

"So far, we have lost 1% of trading hours to load shedding and you can correlate that pretty much to sales at this stage," said Clicks Group CEO David Kneale. "We don’t have our own generators, as we don’t have fridge products. In 44 of our stores we’re trading in shopping centres that have generators, so the lights stay on."

Part of the group’s R379m capital expenditure going forward will be used to outfit certain stores with battery packs, which will allow for four hours of trading during load shedding.

"Our categories are pretty resilient, so if you have a chronic prescription you will come in at some point for it, but we still lose some trade because the doors get shut and we lose impulse purchases," Mr Kneale said.

In the six months ended February 28, Clicks reported diluted headline earnings per share of 177.6c, a 12.8% gain on the matching period’s 157.4c.

Wholesaler and distributor UPD was the strongest performer, with turnover up 20.7%. UPD increased operating profit by 15.7%, although the increase in the lower margin generics business continued to place pressure on the margin, which reduced by 10 basis points to 2.3%.

With consumers becoming increasingly value conscious, the company — like its peers — relied on markdowns and specials to drive sales. Same store growth at the core Clicks chain rose 7.6%, while The Body Shop advanced by 8.8%.

At Musica, same stores sales growth of 1.2% was achieved.

A total of R448m was returned to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.

Clicks’ shares have gained 56.07% over the past year — outpacing the 12.34% rise in the JSE’s All Share index.

Looking ahead, Clicks will add 15 new stores in the second half as it refurbishes and freshens other outlets and invests in information technology.

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