Morrison scorns Sunday opening

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM MORRISON, the supermarkets group based in Bradford, yesterday used its interim results as a platform to question the logic of Sunday trading.

'I don't believe there is any more money to be taken as an industry, and I don't think anybody is doing it profitably,' Martin Ackroyd, finance director, said.

'The only benefit is if shoppers who go on Tuesday go on Sunday as well and spend more money,' he said. The company, which increased pre-tax half-year profits by 34 per cent to pounds 36.2m, does not trade on Sunday. 'We might be suffering slightly, but we don't see any noticeable effect,' Mr Ackroyd said.

Ken Morrison, chairman, added: 'At present the company is not involved in Sunday trading, but is being vigilant in observing its effect. It surely is high time action was taken to regularise the situation.'

He believed that Sunday opening would have resulted in a 1 per cent increase in sales, which had been gleaned by Tesco, the market leader.

Morrison's turnover improved by 17 per cent to pounds 623.5m in the six months to 1 August, but after stripping out takings from eight new stores like-for-like growth was 4.3 per cent against 10 per cent last time.

Morrison's shares eased 4p to 126p, despite a 20 per cent dividend increase to 0.16p.

Andrew Burnett, an analyst at County NatWest, said the like-for- like growth might cause some people to 'get a bit spooked'. But last year's first half was 'very, very strong' so 'any comparison is always going to look unfavourable'. He is sticking with a full-year forecast of pounds 83.5m before tax.

There was a fillip from last year's rights issue, with interest payable of pounds 2.7m turning into pounds 1.8m of income. Net borrowings are pounds 19.8m, equal to 5.7 per cent of shareholders' funds.

The trading picture revealed a move away from canned products into fresh produce. Sales of alcoholic drinks continued to improve, although growth of 5.5 per cent was aided by duty increases.

Morrison trades from 57 stores, with an average selling space of 33,900 sq ft.

Expansion is geared towards stores with 35,000 to 40,000 sq ft. Three openings on this scale are planned in the second half, in Kendal, Oldham and Lincoln.

Capital expenditure was pounds 38m in the first half and should rise to pounds 100m at the year-end, roughly the same as in 1990/91.

By the close of the year, Morrison expects to have more than 2 million sq ft of retail space.