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

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.