3 Reasons to Sell Marks & Spencer Group


LONDON -- Amid the economic downturn and subsequent tax hikes, very few high-street retailers have survived unscathed. Marks & Spencer is no different.

With the cost of living still rising during this time of austerity, luxury food and quality clothing, on which M&S prides itself, tend to be the first things that consumers can do without. This increasingly challenging market is accentuated by three reasons that encompass why I am bearish on the M&S share price:

Uninspiring financials
After being a favorite of investors during the '90s, M&S has had a tough time since 2008 and has struggled to inspire with stagnant revenue and declining profit levels. Indeed, profits have fallen steadily since 2008 with operating margins declining from 13% in 2008 to 8.2% in 2012.

Earlier this year, the retailer admitted that like-for-like sales had dropped 3.8% during the run-up to Christmas, a figure much worse than analysts predicted.

These recent figures illustrate a picture that I believe is a fundamental reason to sell -- things aren't getting better. There is no indication of a future upturn and instead it feels more like a retailer hanging on to a progressively testing market.

There has been significant unrest among shareholders about chief executive Marc Bolland. This discontent has been accentuated by the poor Christmas sales figures, as well as the embarrassing premature leaking of those numbers -- a shambles that fails to inspire confidence in the way management is running things.

Indeed, last month, David Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life Investments, one of M&S' largest shareholders, conveyed his lack of confidence in Bolland, explaining that if improvements in clothing sales were not realized by the autumn, then Bolland's future would be in doubt.

Other shareholders have also expressed their concern at the apparent denial from Bolland that anything is amiss, despite falling sales figures.

Overall, I believe strongly that if the man at the top fails to inspire confidence, it is time to get out, along with the droves of shareholders frustrated and angry that those in charge aren't accomplishing what they envisage.

During the past few weeks, it has been hard to go five minutes without hearing about the horsemeat scandal, and although it doesn't appear to have had a considerable effect on current supermarket share prices, I believe that future sector results will show lower demand for processed meat and ready meals, as well as a possible migration from supermarkets to local butchers.

Indeed, a recent survey suggested that 24% of British adults claim they are now intending to consume less processed meat, 21% are purchasing less meat in general, and 62% are more likely to purchase their meat from independent butchers.

When looking at M&S' food product line, although not (yet) implicated in the scandal, the firm's large range of ready meals could be hit hard and thus in anticipation of detrimental results I would rather avoid the risk of holding this share.

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Alastair Millar does not own any shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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