Jeremy Warner: The real carnage comes after Christmas

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The Independent Online

Outlook Little sign yet of the wheels coming off the Tesco juggernaut. UK like-for-like sales growth of "just" 2 per cent is the slowest since the early 1990s, but there is no profits warning, as forecast by some. Given that the growth being reported is all volume, with no contribution from inflation, performance doesn't look that bad.

For the first time since anyone can remember, the other big supermarket groups are doing better, at least in terms of headline sales growth, and there is some evidence of switching away from Tesco to the likes of Morrison and Asda.

Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy claims to be back on top of the problem with the launch of a new "discounter" range, since when the outflow is said to have been stemmed and now reversed. Tesco takes one in seven pounds spent on the British high street, so despite formidable management it cannot escape unscathed from the squeeze on disposable incomes.

Unfortunately, the real challenge is yet to come. To retailers, things already seem bad enough, but they all know there is worse just around the corner. All the evidence is that Britons are engaged in one last spending binge, albeit far more subdued than normal for this time of year, before reconciling themselves to the inevitable, cutting up the credit card, battening down the hatches and preparing for unemployment some time after Christmas.

Tesco is to some extent protected by its international growth, but, as we already know, no country is going to remain immune to the ever-widening recession.

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