Five questions answered on Tesco’s annual profit drop as it exits US

Fallen for the first time in 20 years.

Supermarket giant Tesco today announced that its annual profits have fallen for the first time in 20 years and that it will exit the US. We answer five questions on Tesco’s current troubles.

How much are Tesco’s profits down by?

The superstore announced today that pre-tax profits were down by 51 per cent to £1.96bn and that post-tax profits, including the cost of the US exit, were down 95.7 per cent to just £120m.

What have Tesco’s UK sales been like?

In the last 3 months Tesco, which is the world’s third-largest supermarket group, has reported a 0.5 per cent increase, excluding fuel and VAT sales tax. Which is a slow down in growth of 1.8 per cent in the six weeks to 5th January, after strong Christmas sales.  

For the last year, Tesco announced that total UK sales rose by 1.8 per cent to just over £48bn, with UK trading profit falling by 8.3 per cent to £2.27bn.

The company said its online grocery division was doing well with “another strong year” after sales grew by 2.8 per cent to £2.3bn.

How much has Tesco’s US exit cost the company?

Exiting its 199 Fresh & Easy stores in the US – which have never made a profit – is expected to cost the supermarket chain £1.2bn.

What other changes has Tesco announced?

As well as exiting the US, Tesco is also ending its operations in Japan, and referring to its China trading it said it would take a more measured approach.

The company has also announced a one-off UK property write-down, in which it has identified 100 sites it bought mainly through the property boom, but no longer plans to develop.

What have Tesco said in relation to these changes?

In a press statement Chief Executive Philip Clarke said:

"The announcements made today are natural consequences of the strategic changes we first began over a year ago and which conclude today. With profound and rapid change in the way consumers live their lives, our objective is to be the best multichannel retailer for customers.

We have set the business on the right track to deliver realistic, sustainable and attractive returns and long-term growth for shareholders. The consequences are non-cash write-offs relating to the United States, from which we today confirm our decision to exit, and for UK property investments which we will not pursue because of our fundamentally different approach to space.

We have also faced external challenges which have affected our performance, notably in Europe and Korea.

Our focus now is on disciplined and targeted investment in those markets with significant growth potential and the opportunity to deliver strong returns."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.