"Great bargains" in store for retail and consumer stocks in 2014: CIBC

Competitive pressures will challenge earnings but create buying opportunities

TORONTO, March 26, 2014 /CNW/ - After a two-year "rocket ride" for retail and consumer stocks, outsized returns will be hard to find in 2014 but there could be great opportunities for bargain-shopping investors, according to CIBC World Markets Inc.

"The past two years have been a rocket ride for Retail and Consumer stocks in Canada," says Perry Caicco, Equity Analyst at CIBC. "The TSX Staples Index has risen 53 per cent, and the Discretionary Index has risen 67 per cent, which is about three times faster than the overall TSX."

But the fuel for those increases, namely rampant M&A activity, real estate spin-offs into REITs and investor focus on stable cash-producing consumer names over resource stocks, has largely dissipated, writes Mr. Caicco in a note published for CIBC's Retail and Consumer Conference happening today in Toronto.

"2014 is shaping up to be a year of digestion and transition, as companies absorb acquisitions, shift strategies and rebuild their bases all while the competitive landscape remains on fire," says Mr. Caicco. "As a result, we do not see foresee outsized returns in the Retail and Consumer space this year, and have encouraged investors to focus on either high-growth companies, or more traditional companies where management is actively driving value."

He notes that earnings for many companies in the retail sector will be challenged this year due to a weak Canadian dollar, debt-conscious consumers, and square footage growth that has intensified competition and squeezed margins. "As quarters unfold, and as the challenges become apparent, multiples are likely to decline. But underneath it all, certain transition activities will begin to bear fruit and there could be some great bargains again among these stocks."

Mr. Caicco adds that he expects Walmart and Target "to be quite aggressive in the hunt for sales this year, and everyone will have to respond or see revenues erode. On top of that, we still have new retail arrivals on the way, including Nordstrom and HBC's Saks operation, and plenty more from TJX," which operates Winners, Marshalls and Homesense, he adds.  "And we haven't even mentioned the elephant in the room: e-commerce."

Mr. Caicco believes that e-commerce could more than triple its share of Canadian retail sales, growing to 5 per cent by the end of the decade from 1.5 per cent today.

Companies in significant transition, either due to asset integrations or changes in market dynamics, include all grocers as well as Maple Leaf Foods, HBC, Aimia, Tim Hortons, Bauer, Whistler Blackcomb Holdings and Dorel.  "Earnings results are likely to be unstable" in the period ahead, says Mr. Caicco. He adds that "even the slightest stumble (or modest disappointment) can send stocks down sharply. We have already seen evidence of that behavior at Loblaw, Empire, Metro, Aimia, RONA and Dorel."

The complete note from Mr. Caicco is available at: http://files.newswire.ca/256/Cover_Note_March_26.pdf.

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SOURCE CIBC World Markets

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Tom Wallis, Communications and Public Affairs at 416-980-4048, tom.wallis@cibc.com