Jewellery purchases are discretionary and may be particularly affected by adverse trends in the general economy.
The success of the Group’s operations depends to a significant extent upon a number of factors relating to discretionary consumer spending These include economic conditions and perceptions of such conditions by consumers, employment, the rate of change in employment, the level of consumers’ disposable income and income available for discretionary expenditure, business conditions, interest rates, consumer debt and asset values, availability of credit and levels of taxation for the economy as a whole and in regional and local markets where the Group operates. There can be no assurance that consumer spending on jewellery will not be adversely affected by changes in general economic conditions. However, due to the limited seasonality in the product mix, the risk of having to discount inventory in order to be correctly stocked for the next selling season is more limited than for some other retail sectors.
While the level of consumer expenditure does vary, occasions when jewellery is purchased – engagements, weddings and events such as Christmas, wedding anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day – occur on a regular basis. Approximately 45% of sales in the US are in the bridal related category; which is thought to be less sensitive to changes in general economic conditions than other classifications of jewellery, while in the UK only 20% of sales are bridal related. Furthermore, a greater proportion of costs in the US business are proportional to sales than in the UK business so the impact on any change in sales, either positive or negative, has less of an impact on operating profit in the US than in the UK.
As a substantial proportion of the Group’s US sales are made on credit, any significant deterioration in general economic conditions or consumer debt levels may inhibit consumers’ use of credit and cause a material adverse effect on the Group’s revenues and profitability. Furthermore, any downturn in general or local economic conditions in the markets in which the Group operates may adversely affect its collection of outstanding credit accounts receivable and hence the net bad debt charge. Currently there are all-time high levels of consumer debt in the US and the level of net bad debt charge as a percentage of credit sales in the Group’s US division in 2007/08 was at the high end of the range of recent years. In 2008/09 the net bad debt charge may increase further, although this is expected to be somewhat offset by increased income from the credit portfolio.
Adverse general economic conditions may also constrain the Group’s ability to make distributions to shareholders as the Board believes it is an important competitive advantage to maintain a strong balance sheet and financial flexibility so as to be able to take advantage of the long term growth opportunities such as those provided by Kay, Jared and the rough diamond initiative.