Sainsbury's, the UK's third-biggest supermarket, has followed up a strong Christmas with decent results for the first three months of the year: overall sales rose 3.4% for the 11 weeks to 21 March.
Much of that is down to the stay-at-home effect of the downturn, which leaves supermarkets in a strong position to draw punters with their food and booze offerings. Sainsbury's has also done well out of appealing to customers on a budget: sales of its ‘basics' range were up 60%, as punters were drawn by campaigns like ‘feed your family for a fiver'.
Sainsbury's isn't the only supermarket left smiling right now: Morrisons reported a 7% increase in annual pre-tax profits to £655m, and a rise of 7.9% in like-for-like sales, excluding petrol, on the year. But it wasn't just the budget end getting a boost: Waitrose recently announced that sales for the first five weeks of 2009 increased by 5.2%, reaching £4bn for the first time.
Yet the supermarkets' achievements stand in stark relief against the mood elsewhere in the high street, where there are fears of retailers suffering a cashflow crisis - landlords are about to come knocking for their quarterly rent cheques.
The British Retail Consortium reckons this quarter's rent payments could be the toughest since the last recession, especially after such a dismal Christmas. The pressure of paying three months' rent up-front could be too much for some businesses. You can tell it isn't exactly plain sailing when stores are actually announcing that they will be able to pay their rent. This is what Jessops, the photography specialist, has just done. Shares jumped 85% as a result.
Meanwhile, it's deadline day at JJB Sports too, where agreements to delay £60m of troublesome loan repayments are due to expire. Having put its OSC and Qube subsidiaries into administration, the Wigan-based company is still trying to flog its gyms. Progress in the sale was a pre-requisite of the renegotiated bank deal, which made the repayment conditions kinder. Unfortunately for JJB, banks aren't exactly putting charity at the top of their priority list these days.