James Thompson: Story of tribulations is a sign of how tough things really are
For those who over indulged at Christmas, January is often the time when people vow to eat healthier, sign up to a gym or take a seat in the doctor's waiting room – if they have really overdone it.
In a similar way, the retail sector goes through its own very public health check early in the new year, when high street stalwarts and online specialists post their festive trading statements.
The diagnosis was particularly illuminating this year at a time of a brutal squeeze on consumer spending – which shows no sign of abating with those dreaded credit card bills set to land next week.
Certainly, insolvency surgeons were busy treating terminal patients, such as the fashion chain D2 Jeans, the shoe group Barratts Priceless and the toy specialist Hawkin's Bazaar, although other sickly characters, such as the outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure, were allowed out of intensive care with new owners.
But Christmas 2011 will probably be remembered for just one company – Tesco.
When the UK's biggest retailer, which has grown its profits and sales remorselessly for more than a quarter of a century, warns of "straining" profitability, everyone truly knows how tough life is on the high street.
The almost historic profit warning from Tesco seemingly gives the likes of Argos, Mothercare, Thorntons, HMV and Game an excuse when explaining con falling UK sales to investors.
Or does it?
In the Christmas marathon, there were plenty of retailers, notably Sainsbury's, Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser, operating at peak levels of fitness – both online and instore – who delivered an impressive result at the finish line, although the dreadful snow in December 2010 meant all chains were up against soft comparable sales.
However, Christmas 2011 will also be remembered for fierce discounting and a sea of sale signs, which means the final reckoning, will only come with the publication of profits. They will not be pretty for many.
But those, such as Next, with its stable management team and slick online operation, will be able to point to a rise – albeit a modest one – in annual profits.
Indeed, as one of the country's best-known retailers often says privately: pre-tax profit is the only figure that really matters.
It is here that Philip Clarke, Tesco's under-pressure boss, will again be top dog, with full-year profits up to about £3.6bn.
The world's third-biggest retailer is looking a bit pasty after a sickly Christmas in the UK, but by this bottom-line health check, its muscles are still far bigger than anyone else's and, judging by its comments yesterday, is up for the fight ahead.
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 3 Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
- 4 Witch doctor arrested after forcing newborn baby to walk in Indian village
- 5 Arsenal fan asks the Queen for tickets to the FA Cup final - gets a reply from Buckingham Palace
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: Dublin in party mood ahead of historic poll result
Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
Toddler throws a tantrum at the White House – in front of Barack Obama
Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
Witch doctor arrested after forcing newborn baby to walk in Indian village
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
iJobs Money & Business
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...
£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...