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Ocado reported a positive start to the year in a first-quarter trading update, but sceptical investors in one of the UK’s most-shorted stocks were offered no further evidence of the transformative overseas deal first promised more than a year ago.
Ocado said gross retail sales in the 13 weeks to February 28 were 13.1 per cent higher than the same period last year, the same growth rate it reported last year.
Average order size continued to decline, though a 1.5 per cent fall to £110.84 marked a slower pace than in recent quarters, and the company said it was driven partly by successful efforts to encourage customers to make more regular orders.
Average orders per week were 16.7 per cent higher than the same period last year, at 252,000.
Ocado beat forecasts in its full-year results, but remains one of the most-shorted stocks on the UK market, with the concentration of its stock in the hands of a few investors making it susceptible to volatility. The group has become a battleground stock, with investors clashing over their belief in its business model.
The company has been promising for more than a year that it would strike a deal to run online operations for an overseas retailer, but on Tuesday the company made no mention of any new deal.
However, there was some positivity about the wider UK grocery market, which has begun to show signs of an end to years of food price deflation that has eaten into companies’ profits.
Ocado chief executive said the company had seen “the first signs of a change in market pricing dynamics coming through”, though he remained cautious about the potential benefits, saying:
It remains too early to predict how this will unfold throughout the year, and in particular is dependent on any future currency movements.
Mr Steiner added:
We are pleased with the steady progress and growth achieved in the period, as shoppers continue to embrace our proposition for online shopping. We believe our commitment to further improving the customer experience and service through constant innovation, supported by proprietary technology developments, will enable us to continue to grow ahead of the online grocery market, and substantially ahead of the market overall.
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