Kingfisher's results are looking sunnier

But they need to tackle their weakness: DIY.

Kingfisher has revealed that total sales across its UK & Ireland fascias – B&Q and Screwfix – increased +3.6 per cent during the 10 weeks to 13 July 2013, with LFLs growing +2.5 per cent.

This update is certainly a sunnier one for Kingfisher. One of the hottest UK summers for many years has brought with it a surge of spending on gardening and outdoor products.  This more positive update comes off the back of a torrid Q1, where notably miserable conditions across the retailer’s key European locations negatively impacted growth during the traditionally critical Easter period. Moreover, while weakness in its core DIY categories continues to represent a cloud on the horizon, Kingfisher is being proactive in its response.

In the UK, this period saw B&Q benefit strongly from the more positive weather, with higher demand for gardening products and outdoor furniture. For example, B&Q saw sales of wooden outdoor furniture grow 56 per cent, while natural stone tiles were 6 per cent ahead. A more austere British consumer is increasingly looking to make the most of their gardens, with BBQs and dinner parties being viewed as attractive alternatives to going out to bars and restaurants. Indeed, while the performance of outdoor categories will inevitably continue to be heavily shaped by seasonal fluctuations, the more frugal post-recessionary consumer mindset means that these categories will present significant opportunities.

Kingfisher is being proactive in its response to weakness across its core DIY categories, which continue to struggle amid weakness in the housing market and generally low consumer interest. To this end, B&Q is gaining market share off the back of investment in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services. Moreover, a recent deal with Morrisons to share space in Meir Park, Staffordshire, reflects an understanding of the long term necessity to reduce space in response to structural changes and overcapacity in the UK DIY category. Elsewhere, Kingfisher’s UK trade fascia, Screwfix has achieved a strong Q2 performance, boosted by new outlets and competitive pricing. 

Kingfisher faces a number of challenges to overcome in the medium-long term. Most notably, until the housing market improves significantly, consumer interest in DIY will remain weak.  Linked to this, while the ultimate potential of the Coalition’s Help To Buy scheme remains uncertain, the early signs have been promising. Indeed, we do believe the DIY market will eventually reach a stable and settled level towards the back end of next year. In relation to Kingfisher itself, we retain our view that while it is a victim of circumstance the company is both well run and proactive. Investments in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services put it in a strong position to grab share and take advantage of the upturn, when eventually materialises.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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