Retail stocks likely to withstand Brexit effect

Britain’s shock vote to leave the EU probably means a bad knock to consumer confidence. But that doesn’t need to feed through to bad vibes for all retailers.

Retail stocks likely to withstand Brexit effect

Reality is still sinking in across Britain, which has the equity slump and sinking currency to prove it.

Though it will be weeks before any official data on the impact of the referendum on the UK economy is published, already some worrying signs for British retail have popped up.

The profit warning from upmarket real estate agent Foxtons on Monday is one.

There’s no doubt Brexit will prompt consumers to postpone the purchase of big-ticket items. That is what happened after the financial crisis, and the trend is likely to be repeated this time round.

But the Foxtons statement isn’t just a bad sign for the property market.

It also suggests trouble ahead for purchases of the new kitchens, widescreen TVs, carpets and beds that usually accompany house moves.

Carpetright seems already to be feeling the pinch, as its shares slipped nearly 10% in the early part of the week.

But while Brexit hasn’t created a Lehman moment, you wouldn’t know it from a broad look at retailers’ share prices.

These suggest the industry is back to the darkest days of the financial crisis, when consumers didn’t just tighten their purse strings, they snapped them shut. Some of that gloom looks overdone.

Dixons Carphone shares are down 22.7% in the past few days, outpacing the decline in the Ftse-100 index.

Though consumer electronics retailing has notoriously thin profit margins, the boon for Dixons is that it has some protection from a relatively small exposure to currency fluctuations.

Clothing retailers might also be due a second look, including the UK’s two biggest. Shares in Marks and Spencer are at their lowest level since June 2009, and their 22.1% drop this week is the most since July 2008, while Next has fallen 20.8%.

Apparel was already in a tricky situation even before the referendum, thanks to a broad change in women’s spending patterns away from clothing and toward other items and experiences. Compounding this is the far-from-summery weather.

Like many non-food retailers, clothes sellers are exposed to sterling’s weakness. Most buy the majority of the goods they source from suppliers in Asia, and pay for them in dollars. The tanking pound means that their costs will go up.

Smaller value items are likely to be less sensitive to economic and political events than purchases costing hundreds of pounds.

What’s key for them is whether wages keep rising ahead of inflation, and how bad the labour market gets hit.

British retail sales growth slowed slightly ahead of last week’s referendum, an industry survey showed yesterday.

Bloomberg and Reuters

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