Next shares tipped to retake £60 level

by Graeme Evans from interactive investor |

There were none of the huge share price swings we've become used to, but these results are solid enough and some believe the shares could go higher still.

Predicting future trends in retail is notoriously difficult, which is why Next (LSE:NXT) management are understandably keen to downplay the significance of today's Easter sales boost.

The out-performance in the first quarter equates to sales of £10 million, which in a land visited by Beasts from the East and Atlantic gales and storms can be lost in no time.

But the better-than-expected first-quarter performance does no harm for stock market sentiment, which has picked up nicely for Next in 2019 following a 40% rise in the share price during Q1 alone.

While analysts appear to have heeded Next's advice that it is too early to revise full-year sales and profit guidance, today's update provided the opportunity for one or two to flex their price targets in light of the recent share price gains.

UBS is now looking for 6,300p rather than 6,000p, while analysts at Peel Hunt have shifted to 5,600p based on a mid-teens price/earnings (PE) multiple.

Source: TradingView   Past performance is not a guide to future performance

The UBS estimates are built around Next continuing to take share in a struggling mid-market and to benefit as capacity is taken out of UK retail. Analyst Andrew Hughes said: "The key issue for the medium term is whether Next can grow revenue sufficiently to generate growth in pre-tax profits and cash flows."

At the moment, Next's central guidance is for profits to decline 1.1% to £715 million in 2019/20 following a 1.7% rise in full-price sales. It still forecasts retail sales will be down 8.5% in the year, despite today's smaller-than-expected fall of 3.6% in the 13 weeks to April 27.

This out-performance was driven by the unusually warm weather over the Easter holiday period, which was particularly helpful to retail stores. Full-price sales including online were up 4.5% — some 1.3 percentage points higher than the company's own estimates.

Next said: "We do not currently believe that the over performance of the first quarter can be extrapolated to the rest of the year."

The current quarter is likely to be tougher due to comparisons with last year's unusually warm spring and summer, while there's the possibility that Easter's strong trading will have pulled forward sales from Q2. Next thinks that the period will see sales decline by 0.5%, followed by growth of 1.7% in the following two quarters. The next trading update is due on July 31.

The retailer remains highly cash generative, which should enable it to return another £300 million through its ongoing share buyback programme. The recent rise in its share price means that the buy-back boost to earnings per share will be 3.4% rather than January's 3.6% guidance.

Shares traded above £60 for a brief spell last summer, only to fall back to nearer £40 on fears of a disastrous Christmas for UK retailers. Those worries proved unfounded, with some analysts pointing to the continued strength of the online business, which now sells third-party ranges from brands including adidas, Boohoo and French Connection.

Online, which has long been the jewel in the Next crown, grew full-price sales by 11.8% in the first quarter.

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