Quick turnaround helps Zara beat expectations again

Zara owner Inditex has reported better first-half sales and profit than expected as the world’s biggest clothing retailer outperformed rivals thanks to quick production times that allow it to react to changing weather and fashions.

Inditex has reported consistently better figures than its next biggest rival H&M in recent years, helped by its ability to get the latest trends to stores in a matter of days from factories in Europe and North Africa rather than Asia.

Items such as floral dresses, jumpsuits, and over-sized sweaters helped push sales up 16% in local currencies in the six months to July 31. Net profit was up 8% at €1.26bn, above a Reuters analysts’ poll which forecast a 7% rise.

Mirabaud analyst Gonzalo Sanz Martin, who rates the stock “sell”, said Inditex’s lead over rivals was now priced in to shares that trade on 31% forward earnings compared with a historical average of 24.6 times and 19 times for H&M.

“We harbour no doubts as to the group’s quality or visibility as well as its ability to generate recurrent cash flow or its cash position at this time. The problem is that all of this comes at too high a price,” he said.

Inditex shares, which have opened up a big premium to other major fashion retailers, dipped 0.9%, reacting to news of a slowdown in sales in the August 1 to September 18 period.

In the first weeks of its second half to September 18, sales growth slowed slightly to 13%, but was still ahead of most analysts expectations after H&M blamed a hot second half of August for missed forecasts last week.

The figure implies growth of at least 7% once the effect of new store openings is stripped out, according to Societe Generale analyst Anne Critchlow, well ahead of an implied fall of 2% for H&M in August. H&M reports third quarter results on September 30.

“There are very few short-lead time retailers. Inditex is one of them, and that makes it stand out from commoditised value fashion retailers like H&M, which are all about price and long-lead times,” said Critchlow.

Inditex, whose other brands include younger fashion chain Pull&Bear and upmarket label Massimo Dutti, is known for its fast turnover by keeping its manufacturing bases close to its distribution centre in northern Spain. This allows its brands to react to trends immediately, reducing in-store markdowns and boosting profitability.

Societe Generale estimates that Inditex sources 65%of its products from Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and North Africa, whereas most other retailers source around 80 percent of their products from Asia.


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