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Business day: the bottom line

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IT CAN be surprising to hear a CEO sound humble, especially when it is a retailer whose job is to sell which at reporting time is inevitably themselves. But Massmart ’s Grant Pattison did just that yesterday. “It seems that the food retailers and clothing retailers have done better than us,” he said in announcing the results of “the worst six months we’ve ever experienced”. It’s hard to imagine Shoprite’s Whitey Basson making a similar confession, especially if it meant uttering the names Pick n Pay or Woolworths in public. Of course, being humble about the bad doesn’t mean you can’t play up the good, and that is what Pattison did to the hilt yesterday, even volunteering a graph that showed month-on-month same- store sales growth up 3% and 5% in January and February respectively even though these are out of the period under review. He even forecast a rise in product inflation, “which means we can get some profit growth without moving so many boxes”. The higher paint sales that started at Builders Warehouses in December seem to have translated into other goods as well, suggesting as Pattison was only too keen to do that the worst of the consumer slump is over. Given his willingness to be blunt about the bad, it might just be worth believing him about the good.

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