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For Best Buy, the Worst Is Yet to Come

For Best Buy, the Worst Is Yet to Come

Thursday, 25 November, 2021 - 05:30

Best Buy Co. Inc.’s post-pandemic slowdown has officially begun. And unfortunately for its investors, there are clear signs the electronics retailer’s troubles might just be getting started.

Early Tuesday, the company reported revenue of $11.91 billion for the quarter ended in October, slightly above the $11.69 billion median estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, and roughly flat compared with last year. Revenue growth was markedly lower than the 36% and 20% rates Best Buy had in its first and second quarters, respectively.

But what rattled Wall Street was the retailer’s soft holiday sales outlook. Best Buy forecast revenue of between $16.4 billion and $16.9 billion for the current quarter, which at the low end would be a significant disappointment. In addition, management warned more promotional activity and increased store theft was pressuring profitability. The retailer’s shares tumbled more than 15% after the results were announced.

The numbers signal that we shouldn’t expect a return to higher levels of growth anytime soon. That’s largely due to the nature of what Best Buy sells. Unlike recurring spending categories such as clothing and food, the retailer’s product mix is dominated by large, one-time purchases of televisions, smartphones, personal computers and appliances, all things that don’t need to be replaced annually. After a year in which consumers spent aggressively to build out their in-home digital entertainment systems and remote-work setups, it seems likely that demand was pulled forward and that PC shoppers have what they need for now.

There are signs of further weakness ahead. According to market research firm TrendForce, industry shipments for televisions are expected to drop 10% in the December holiday quarter. And PC growth has been tumbling, with the latest report from research firm IDC showing just a 4% rise in the third quarter after climbing as much as 55% earlier this year. And that’s on the heels of a drop in computer sales in the October quarter.

Then there are the longer-term problems with Best Buy’s business model. Despite consumers returning to in-store shopping, brick-and-mortar stores haven’t been a panacea. E-commerce has structural advantages over physical retailing, from a large product selection to convenience, while traditional retailers are still hobbled with higher real estate and labor expenses. Over time, the shift to online selling is an unstoppable trend.

It doesn’t help matters that Best Buy’s online efforts are faltering, with domestic e-commerce sales down double-digits in its last two reported quarters. In comparison, Inc. was able to grow in those periods even though it is much larger in size.

Finally, there is Best Buy’s elevated stock price. Investors have bid up its shares by almost 40% this year ahead of today’s earnings report, valuing the company at a large premium to its five-year historical revenue multiple. That seems aggressive in light of Wall Street’s projection of flattish sales growth for the retailer over the next two years. Given Best Buy’s diminishing prospects and high expectations, caution is in order.


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