Mothercare Sales: One Swallow Doesn't Make a Summmer

Last Updated Apr 3, 2009 7:08 AM EDT

At last some good news. Mothercare's fourth quarter trading update recorded a rise in UK sales by 1.3 per cent and like-for-likes up 3.7 per cent in the 11 weeks to 28 March.

At the risk of aping another retail brand's ad campaign, this is not just good news, in terms of it's not as bad a performance as expected, it really is a good measure of growth. For Mothercare, surely. For the rest of the retail sector? Maybe not.

Shopkeepers might be forgiven for hoping against hope consumer spending is starting to lift. Alongside Mothercare's trend-bucking figures, John Lewis Partnership reported a weekly rise of 16 per cent in sales at Waitrose.
Nationwide also reported a rise in house prices in March, the first since 2007, but this was countered by Halifax, which recorded a continued slide.

As good as Mothercare's sales are, they can't be used as an indicator of consumer confidence. Parents are always going to buy clothes for their children, no matter how much their disposable income is eroded, so it is in a fairly recession-proof market. By the same measure, it's also in a market that grows slowly in line with the birth rate. So, it's not indicative of consumer spending as a whole.

As the retailer's international sales show, a rise of 40 per cent for the quarter, Mothercare's best option for growth is in increasing geographical reach.

Still, it's a step in the right direction. It brightens an otherwise gloomy picture for the sector as a whole and, like the improvement in the weather for this week, a welcome change.