Bottom Line: Kingfisher speaks volumes to critics

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The Independent Online
IF VOLUME of information was what mattered, yesterday's results briefing from Kingfisher would have been enough to reverse the 25 per cent underperformance in its shares since the start of the year. But the City is more interested in volume of sales, and on that the briefing was rather less reassuring.

Half of the group's value retailing strategy is working perfectly. Operating margins dropped across the group - most severely at Superdrug, where they fell from 5.9 to 5.1 per cent, but also by 0.6 points at B&Q and Woolworths.

Getting the extra volumes to compensate is, however, proving more difficult. Like-for-like sales at B&Q, where the value retail strategy is most advanced, were just 4 per cent higher, and that was fuelled by the Depot format which is less than two years old.

At Woolworths, growth tailed off, even allowing for the toy and video problems. The 2.5 per cent Superdrug increase is hardly exciting given its patchy history. At Comet, sales actually declined.

Having been carried away by its enthusiasm for value retailing last year, the group is now warning investors not to expect results overnight.

It also admits that implementation of the strategy has been hindered by the lack of a comprehensive electronic scanning system. Woolworths and Superdrug will have full scanning technology by the autumn.

The City's scepticism about Kingfisher's strategy is reflected in the 14.8 forward multiple, a 13 per cent discount to the sector, based on forecasts of about pounds 335m. Cheap if it can make it work.