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Retail toughest in semicentury

Just Jeans stock
Just Jeans stock
Just Jeans stock

Australia’s retailers have faced their most challenging period for 50 years, says retailing mogul Solomon Lew.

The chairman of Premier Investments, which owns retailer Just Group, says a fragile global economy, a slowdown in China, and volatile share markets, commodity prices and currencies have all affected general investment and growth.

In Australia, the transition from the mining boom had not been well managed and has been compounded by cost-of-living pressures, high levels of personal debt, unemployment and poor public policy decisions driven largely by recent political instability.

Nonetheless, Lew said Premier Investments’ core retail business, which includes Smiggle, Peter Alexander and Just Jeans, had achieved record increases in sales, margin and profit in fiscal 2015.

“These outcomes have been achieved in the context of the continuation of the most challenging period for retailers in my over 50 years of retail experience,” Lew told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting.

Lew said the reshuffled government under new leader Malcolm Turnbull is a source of optimism.

“The immediate rise in consumer confidence reflects the expectation that there will be both political stability and a coherent and more predictable public policy framework for business and consumers,” Lew said.

He said the business sector needs more certainty on the issue of broad tax reform.

The tax break on online purchases from overseas below $1,000 needs to be scrapped immediately and “punitive” weekend penalty rates revised because they are putting small retailers out of business and costing jobs.

Lew welcomed the government’s announcement in June that the level at which GST and duties are applied to goods bought online from overseas will be lowered from $1,000 to zero.

But the change is yet to occur, so Australian-based retailers continue to trade on an uneven playing field.

Lew also said the current structure of weekend penalty rates is stopping retailers from hiring more staff.

It costs Premier over 100 per cent more per hour per employee to work on a Sunday in Australia than it does in the UK, Singapore or New Zealand.

Lew told reporters that Premier was “standing by” to see how the Turnbull government moved in relation to the GST on the broad range of good and services.

Lew said he would like to see the GST applied to goods in Australia in a similar fashion to the way the US applies its tax.

He said that in Australia, GST is included in the stated price, whereas in the US tax was added on to the stated price, making it clearer to the consumer how much money would go to the retailer.

“At least the consumer will know exactly what the tax regime is, and I think that’s a fair policy,” Lew said.


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