Is tomorrow (Monday 12 April) the date when the English and Welsh move away from the advanced action of opposable thumbs on smart-screens, and practise the use of all available digits to open shop doors, work through stuff on shelves and push shiny debit cards into hungry slots on countertop readers? Will it be like the emergence of 24 hour gamers into the light after months of slaying dragons and defeating aliens? How will we take to the language of our retail future?
”Do you have that in a medium?”
”I’m just looking”
”Please leave my changing room, you bearded freak.”
Statistics suggest that us Brits are getting better at lockdowns and post-lockdown release, having benefitted from two practice runs last year. With half the population vaccinated, most of whom can’t be bothered to check on their blood platelet levels, we appear pretty much good to go on Monday morning.
Hopes are rising that the bounce-back after a three-month lockdown will be far stronger than in previous reopenings. A YouGov survey last week found that 72 per cent of people felt comfortable visiting high street shops, up from about 40 per cent last June. Most of them want to try on multiple pairs of shoes, pick up something pointless adjacent to the counter, compare the yellow to the green before eventually buying the blue and try out iMacs they could never afford.
All of this amidst a good weather forecast, the pending start of the Euros and Wimbledon, alcohol-fuelled purchasing, two Bank Holidays in May, the launch of new summer collections, boredom with opening brown packages chucked onto your step by Gary (who was ‘two stops away’ 45 minutes ago) and the accumulation of vouchers since the end of 2019.
Those with double cuffs to match the number of their on-desk screens are all over the prospects of billions being spent by those released back into the retail and outdoor drinking wild. According to IHS Markit stock lending data, a proxy for short-selling, two per cent of shares in pub group Mitchells & Butler are currently sold short, down from eight per cent in February, and 2.7 per cent of shares in The Restaurant Group, owner of Wagamama, are being shorted, down from 7.8 per cent.
Short-selling in electricals retailer Dixons Carphone has fallen from 2.7 per cent to 0.3 per cent of shares outstanding, while 2.3 per cent of Marks & Spencer’s shares are shorted, down from 5.1 per cent last April. On average, short-selling across non-essential retail and leisure stands at 1.1 per cent compared with 2.7 per cent a year ago. Putting it simply, if you aren't spending your part of the £145 billion we as British consumers have saved over the past year on good retail stock, you haven't been concentrating.
This optimism is not shared by shopping mall operator Hammersons who had a torrid 2020. They have sold seven of their portfolio of malls in salubrious fashion centres such as Middlesbrough, Didcot, Telford and Rugby to Canadian equity player Brookfield for £350 million. They presumably did this by helping the Canadians believe that Middlesbrough was York, Didcot was Bath, Telford was Harrogate and Rugby was ... anywhere other than Rugby.
Hammerson are desperate to avoid ‘doing an Intu’, this sale following an emergency rights issue of £552 million, priced at a 95 per cent discount.
Money is starting to move around in the sector and none other than ‘Pizza Express tycoon’ Hugh Osmond is reputed to be circling Homebase with a huge bulge in his back pocket, which Tracee - queen of bulges - reckons amounts to about £300 million. The current owners, Hilco, stand to make a bit of a profit on Homebase as they bought it for a mere quid from Australian company Wesfarmers in 2018.
Wesfarmers know little about DIY, as they tried to move the store towards soft-furnishings and clothing when all customers wanted a chisel and some plasterboard. Osmond is keeping schtum on his early interest and may not yet make an offer. All of this comes from Sky News who will not permit facts or the truth to get in the way of a good story.
The NTI newsroom feel duty bound to say that freedom to shop for non-essentials remains the exclusive domain of the English and Welsh from Monday. Scots will still be limited to beauty appointments, key-cutting and purchasing baby equipment, although they can nip across the border and buy flip-flops and punch bowls should they so desire.
God bless our United Kingdom.