News & Analysis

Marks creates Sparks on the FTSE 250!

Andrew Saks, Wednesday, 26 May 2021

It certainly appears that despite the overtly sentiment-fueled social media dash that new asset classes are attracting this year, the old school is still very much in vogue despite its flagging appeal among customers.

We have all been dazzled by the almost unbelievable volatility that was created by the meme stocks debacle back in January and marvelled at how something as simple and relatively powerless as members of a Reddit subgroup could crash the systems of entire brokerages, institutions and banks, and made man-in-the-street investors and would-be traders sit up and listen because there was a genuine feel that their voices would be heard.

Now, almost an entire generation is following Twitter accounts operated by movers and shakers from outside the world of electronic trading and financial markets who are the new creators of markets. Elon Musk, for example, who went from semi-bankrupt serial inventor - a modern day Caratacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - to having spent a short stint as the world's richest man earlier this year.

He spends a lot of time on social media, moving the market as he sees fit, and is revered for it rather than lambasted in the way the traditional banks were in the 2008 credit crunch era, or the way Sir Fred Goodwin, former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland was at around the same time for his aggressive takeover strategy which destroyed what was at the time the world's biggest bank and placed its recovery in the hands of the British taxpayer.

Mr Musk is held out as a hero, whilst Sir Fred Goodwin received, to put it mildly, unpleasant hate mail.

Today, it appears that there is life in the old, traditional asset classes that are the financial markets equivalent of a floral dress and flat cap, and are as old fashioned and English as a pair of flannel trousers and a knotted Union Flag-emblazoned handkerchief upon the receding hairline of a Benidorm visitor in August.

Yes, its that beige bastion of pedestrianism, Marks & Spencer. This morning, Marks & Spencer, whose stock is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is part of the FTSE 250 Competent Index announced that it had made a £201 million loss for the past year after store closures because of lockdown restrictions hammered its clothing and home business and offset an improvement in food sales.

Whilst that is a valid reason, this is not the first time Marks & Spencer's retail products have fallen out of favour with an increasingly modern British public. In the early years of this Millennium, the unfaltering loyalty of the middle classes begun to fade, and Marks & Spencer quickly adapted to find methods to improve the style of their products whilst still maintaining the quality, but it did result in their sales falling for the first time in many years, a trend which has been up and down since.

However, in the same vein that many other stocks and assets have operated during this unusual year, Marks & Spencer stock is actually up this morning to a significantly buoyant level despite the losses.

Analysts' views on this vary, however one line of thinking is that while store closures have heavily impacted Marks & Spencer's bottom line, the company had seen a positive drive in their online sales of 53.9%, which has reduced the overall loss.

So perhaps what we are witnessing is not a bizarre combination of an upward trend following an announcement of loss, but instead an upward trend because the loss that was declared today is not as bad as anyone had anticipated.

It appears that Marks & Spencer is still grappling with its image difficulties in that it does not want to alienate its loyal core customers, yet needs to continue to modernize and has been introducing new brands to its online fashion range aimed at a wider target audience, something the company was reluctant to do for many years as it only ever sold its own brands of food and clothing.

Marks & Spencer CEO Steve Rowe has spoken about the performance of the company in a very upbeat tone, stating "In a year like no other we have delivered a resilient trading performance, thanks in no small part to the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues."

This, plus the share price increase, is positive sentiment against the backdrop of a business that has been struggling for many years and shows that investors and shareholders, as well as the company's senior management are far from browbeaten.

Marks & Spencer stock today is up 4.47% at 162.92p per share, the second highest it has been in six months.

Bad news, therefore, appears in this case to be good news.

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