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.

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.