UK supermarket group Morrisons reported a boost to sales in its latest quarter from the coronavirus lockdown, and said costs related to the pandemic should be broadly offset by the government's business rates relief.
Echoing recent comments from its larger rivals, market leader Tesco and Sainsbury's, Morrisons said the outcome for its full 2020-21 year was highly dependent on the length of the crisis and how customers respond as the country's lockdown eases.
It highlighted other impacts on profit such as the temporary closure of its significant café business, and a 70% slump in fuel sales since the lockdown started on March 23 as Britons make fewer car journeys.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a cautious plan yesterday to get Britain back to work.
Morrisons said today that group like-for-like sales rose 5.7% in the 14 weeks to May 14, its fiscal first quarter, exceeding analysts' expectations with retail sales up 5.1% and wholesale revenue up 0.6%.
It said trading was "highly volatile", with consumers stocking up ahead of the lockdown, then the initial impact of lockdown as they ate into those stocks and weak Easter trading, followed by a significant improvement in recent weeks.
Group like-for-like sales were up 10.8% in the final two weeks of the quarter.
Morrisons has recruited an additional 25,000 workers to boost capacity and offset absenteeism of 20,000 during the crisis.
Other extra costs include staff bonuses, quicker payments to small suppliers and the implementation of social distancing and safety measures. Those costs will be offset by £228m of business rates savings.
Last month Tesco estimated a hit of up to £925m from the costs of dealing with the pandemic, while Sainsbury's warned the impact on current year profit could be over £500m.
Like rivals, Morrisons has significantly expanded its online offer during the crisis.
It has more than doubled the number of weekly home delivery slots for the Morrisons.com business and expanded the Morrisons store on Amazon Prime Now service across London and to most major UK cities.
Before today's update analysts were on average forecasting for Morrisons an underlying pretax profit of £432m for the 2020-21 year, up from £408m in 2019-20.