Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Guided Tour of the Market 2

Consumer Services

The only way a retailer can earn a wide economic moat is by doing something that keeps consumers shopping at its stores rather than at competitors'. It can do this by offering unique products or low prices. The former method is tough to do on a large scale because unique products rarely remain unique forever.

Because many consumer purchases other than food are discretionary (can be put off for later), it's not surprising that retail stocks generally outperform during periods of economic strength and underperform during times of economic weakness.

Demographic shifts and changes in the workforce make the long-term outlook for restaurants pretty bright. Eating food prepared by restaurants is becoming a more attractive alternative to home meal preparation – with both parents working in many households, there's little time to cook and even less for grocery shopping and cleanup. The economics of meal preparation are shifting in favor of eating out as well because families are getting smaller.

One of the best ways to distinguish excellent retailers from average or below-average ones is to look at their cash conversion cycles. The cash cycle tells us how quickly a firm sells its goods (inventory), how fast it collects payments from customers for the goods (receivables), and how long it can hold on to the goods itself before it has to pay suppliers (payables).

If days in inventory and days in receivables illustrate how well a retailer interacts with customers, days payable outstanding shows how well a retailer negotiates with suppliers. It's also a great gauge for the strength of a retailer.


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