Morrisons has reported a £155m hit to profits from costs related to the coronavirus crisis.
The UK’s fourth-largest supermarket chain said – like rivals – it had seen a surge in sales during the first half of its financial year in the run-up to – and during – the COVID-19 lockdown that began in March, which saw all non-essential retail shuttered.
It revealed an 8.7% increase in like-for-like sales, when fuel sales were excluded, in the six months to 2 August compared to the same period last year.
But it said total revenues were down 1.1% to £8.73bn, reflecting the loss of fuel sales during the period as roads remained largely empty.
Morrisons reported profit before tax and exceptional items of £148m – down 25.3%.
It blamed the coronavirus costs bill but said the net hit came in at £62m because of business rates relief of £93m.
The chain took on an additional 45,000 staff to cope with demand as the crisis gathered pace – with in-store customers stripping aisles of essentials such as toilet roll ahead of the lockdown itself.
It reported that online and home delivery order capacity rose five-fold to help meet demand, with five new growth channels – Morrisons.com store pick, food boxes, doorstep, Morrisons on Amazon and Deliveroo – now operating.
Its results statement said: “The mix of the very strong first-half sales growth was weighted towards online channels and lower margin categories. In addition, fuel sales growth was very negative, our cafes were temporarily closed, and we invested in supporting our colleagues, NHS workers and farmers with extra discounts.”
Morrisons said it was to reward staff with a guaranteed annual bonus of 6%.
It raised its interim dividend by 5.7% and forecast continued sales momentum in the second half of the year, part-aided by fuel sales starting to build.
Listed supermarket chains have largely been spared the bloodbath for share values witnessed by many during the COVID crisis.
Morrisons – down almost 3% in the year to date – saw its stock fall by 4% in early trading on Thursday.
Arlene Ewing, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said of the company’s update: “Morrisons’ results are indicative of the wider challenge facing supermarkets – while many expected them to thrive in the current environment, buoyed by business rates relief among other things, that hasn’t quite turned out to be the case.”
She added: “There are, nevertheless, positives to be taken in the form of expectations that COVID-19 costs will fall significantly in the second half, an increase to the dividend, and a relatively bullish outlook from management in this latest update.”
Chief executive David Potts said of the performance: “From the start of the pandemic we stepped up and put the company’s assets at the disposal of the country to help feed the nation.
“Morrisons is at the heart of local communities and responded quickly when it mattered most, and we are very grateful for the British public’s appreciation of all the vital work our colleagues are doing.
“I believe we are seeing the renaissance of British supermarkets.”