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Tough year for consumer firms in Singapore

/ 05:46 PM June 13, 2016

SINGAPORE — Sluggish demand and cost issues among woes, but firms with regional presence may see relief.

The results season provided stark evidence that companies serving the consumer market have endured a bumpy year, as economic headwinds put pressure on local demand while cost issues persisted.

Experts warn that their business outlook will remain choppy over the coming 12 months, although firms with a strong presence in foreign growth markets could offset domestic constraints.

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A quick look at the companies with financial years ending on March 31 showed that a number of retailers and food and beverage (F&B) service providers had mixed performances.

Retailer Courts Asia’s full-year net profit gained 16.8 per cent year on year to S$20.3 million (US$14.91 million), while Metro reported a 20.8 per cent drop in earnings to S$113.1 million ($83.3 million).

In the F&B segment, Tung Lok Restaurants lifted full-year net profit by 6.4 per cent to S$611,000 ($450,000) while Old Chang Kee’s earnings dropped 5.9 per cent to S$5 million ($3.6 million).

These uneven figures point to a fragile domestic market. Metro, which operates three department stores here and nine in Indonesia, suffered a 21.2 per cent year-on-year drop in turnover here to S$30.8 million ($22.6 million) in the three months to March 31, following the closure of Metro City Square and Metro Sengkang.

Even for standout performer Courts Asia, full-year Singapore revenue–which is 65.6 per cent of the group’s total turnover–inched up only 0.1 per cent.

Courts’ business in Singapore, where it runs 15 stores, is resilient but sluggish, chief executive Terry O’Connor told The Straits Times.

“There is no hiding the fact that the local retail market is difficult. We did well last (financial) year but the growth came more from Malaysia, and we are just starting to grow in Indonesia,” he said.

“There are bright spots for us in the region, but in Singapore, conditions are tough due to the cocktail of labour issues, unjustifiably high rental costs and credit cooling.

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“The impact of the property-cooling measures is also spilling over to the consumer demand for furniture and electronics associated with house moving.

“The long-term fundamentals of Singapore are still there, but for now, it’s about managing inventories and margins very carefully.”

Old Chang Kee, with 83 outlets here as at March 31, faced similar issues. Selling and distribution expenses rose around S$2.4 million ($1.7 million) or 8.5 per cent year on year in the 12 months, amounting to 40.9 per cent of full-year revenue.

The increase stemmed mainly from staff cost adjustments of around S$1.1 million ($810,000) amid the competitive labor market and higher rental expenses of around S$800,000 ($590,000), the company said.

Overall conditions for consumer-driven businesses are looking tough, said UOB economist Francis Tan. “Discretionary spending here is slowing alongside the economy…The staple products will be more resilient, but the luxury segment will certainly suffer,” Tan said.

This was reflected in the results of luxury watch retailers Cortina and The Hour Glass. Cortina’s full-year net profit plunged 44.9 per cent to S$8.4 million ($6.2 million), while earnings at The Hour Glass slipped 9.7 per cent to S$52.3 million ($38.5 million).

Tan added: “To hedge against the slowdown here, having good regional exposure is important.

“The developing economies around us are seeing stronger economic and wage growth, with a larger percentage of the young population getting into the middle class.”

CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang agreed: “Jumbo Group is another good example.

“The move to open two new restaurants in Shanghai was behind its good quarterly results.”

But she noted there is no guarantee which market will be bullish, citing Jardine Cycle & Carriage’s 20 per cent drop in first-quarter net profit due to reduced earnings and the currency impact in Indonesia.

“Ultimately, the consumer business can be very unpredictable, because the demand will be reliant on not just economic conditions but also consumption patterns, and these factors are constantly changing,” Yang noted.

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TAGS: Beverage, Business, consumer, demand, firm, food, Growth, Market, outlook, Retail, Singapore
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