The orange march on: Sainsburys and easyJet surprise with strong sales

Easyjet shares soar after a big boost in passenger numbers - and Sainsbury reports market-beating numbers...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
A good start for new easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall: in today's trading update, she was able to report an 8% jump in passenger numbers in September, plus a 6% jump in revenue per seat for the last three months. In fact, business has picked up to such an extent that easyJet has even upgraded its annual profit forecast. No wonder its share price has taken off this morning. There was also positive trading news today from Sainsbury's, which continues to prove the doubters wrong: like-for-like sales were up nearly 3% in the second quarter, well up on Q1 and well above the market average. Time to start betting on orange?

Let's start with easyJet: the UK low-cost carrier said it carried 4.7m passengers in September, 8% more than the same month last year, while its load factor (i.e. how full its planes are) inched up from 88.1% to 89.3% - a clear sign that passenger demand seems to be recovering. Better still, as far as the City's concerned, it's making more money from these passengers, in part because of higher ticket prices. EasyJet said performance had been good across the network, though perhaps surprisingly (to us, anyway) short-haul routes between the UK and Europe have been selling particularly well. So although McCall took the opportunity to have a moan about the air traffic control strikes in Europe (she wants an EU crackdown), she definitely had a good story to tell today. Sure enough, easyJet's share price promptly shot up 9%.

It's also been a good few months for Sainsbury's, which said today that total sales were up 5% in the 16 weeks to October 2, including that 2.9% increase in like-for-likes. That's noticeably better than Tesco's equivalent figure yesterday, allowing Sainsbury to claim that it's outperforming the market. Non-food has been doing well, growing three times as fast as food (albeit it from a much lower base, obviously), while online sales were up by a healthy 25%. And food-wise, its new Bistro line (part of the expensively relaunched Taste the Difference range) is apparently going down a treat.

The big question for Sainsbury's (and easyJet for that matter) is whether consumers are going to start being more careful with their cash as the year goes on. CEO Justin King admitted today that he expected the 'consumer environment to remain challenging' - but he's hoping to make up for any slowdown by opening new retail space. He's opened seven new supermarkets lately (including its biggest in England, Scotland and Wales) and expects to have nearly 1.5m extra square feet of retail space by the end of its financial year. But can it keep finding the customers to fill them? On current evidence, it certainly looks like it.

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