Amazon to boost Australian retail sector: Reece Birtles

Amazon to boost Australian retail sector: Reece Birtles
Amazon to boost Australian retail sector: Reece Birtles


Martin Currie Australia, active equity affiliate of Legg Mason, noted that contrary to some analyst reports, the entry of online retailer Amazon in Australia could boost the domestic retail sector instead of a ‘doomsday scenario’ for the sector.

It’s clear that some hedge funds have been shorting discretionary retailers such as JB Hi-Fi (JBH) and Harvey Norman (HVN) since the market became aware of Amazon’s Australia strategy to open distribution centers later this year.

They have based their analysis looking at the demise of bricks and mortar retailers in the US, a very mature market, due to the ‘Amazon effect’.

However, before we jump to any such conclusions in Australia, it’s worth looking at a comparable company to JBH, which is Best Buy USA.

Best Buy reported earnings which excluding abnormal items were up 40 percent pcp for the first quarter 2017. The share price rose 22 percent.

We believe that given JBH and HVN are very dominant and profitable retailers with leverage to population growth and housing, similar to Best Buy USA, they will be well placed when Amazon begins to operate in Australia.

Wesfarmers (WES) and Woolworths (WOW) are also well prepared for the entry of Amazon with online home delivery already a significant part of their customer focus and innovation.

The other key point is that WOW, Coles (owned by WES) and JBH are located in large shopping centers around Australia.

And there are considerable differences between the US and Australian retail sector that need to be taken into account when considering the likely impact of Amazon’s entry into the local market.

Australian retail centers are better placed then their US counterparts.

In the US, supermarkets are not co-located with discretionary shops, so they are separate trips which affects foot traffic. Retail space per capita is multiple times greater in the US than in Australia.

Australian online retail continues to grow towards market share levels seen in the US, so we may see a shift of market share within those online sales to Amazon.

Overall, we think the physical mall winners will be those that can fulfil the role of the town square and offer an experience to the consumer. Australian shopping malls already have a variety of restaurants, movie theatres, free car parking and entertainment.

We also think that real estate investment trusts with logistics assets will benefit from Amazon’s entry and moves by other retailers to beef up their online presence. 

Reece Birtles is a chief investment officer, Martin Currie Australia and can be contacted here.

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