April 29 (Reuters) - Australia's biggest supermarket chain
Woolworths Group on Thursday offered a less upbeat
reading of sales so far in April than rival Coles Group
as shopping patterns return to pre-pandemic levels, sending its
Coles, Australia's No. 2 grocer, had said in a quarterly
trading update a day earlier that grocery sales since the start
of April were up 4%, but Woolworths called conditions "volatile"
and with sales "broadly flat".
Shares of Woolworths slid 3.6% - its sharpest fall in nearly
two months - while Coles shot nearly 5% higher.
The 97-year-old company said its plans to separate its
drinks and hospitality business, Endeavour Group, remains on
schedule for June.
"It's very volatile out there," Chief Executive Officer Brad
Banducci said on a media call.
"The underlying trendline seems a reversion to a more normal
shopping pattern. As to the actual number, it's very hard to
call it right now," he added, referring to the fourth quarter,
which ends in June.
Sales growth at the drinks and hotels business as well as
department store BIG W helped offset declines at its foods
business in Australia and New Zealand that had seen a strong
quarter in the early days of the pandemic due to panic buying.
It expects sales across its businesses to decline in the
current quarter, except hotels, which had taken a hit during the
lockdowns last year.
Woolworths "should benefit from COVID costs reducing, Hotels
ramping up and the EDG demerger but sales outperformance may be
slowing faster than we hoped," analysts at Jefferies wrote in
client note after the results.
Group sales edged 0.4% higher to A$16.57 billion ($12.92
billion) in the three months to April 4, with e-commerce sales
proving a bright spot, accounting for around 8% of sales in
($1 = 1.2822 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru and Byron Kaye
in Sydney; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Sam Holmes)