May 25, 2016 / 12:13 AM / in 2 years

UPDATE 2-Australia's Wesfarmers signals $1.6 bln hit as fast fashion takes toll

* Company flags non-cash impairment of up to A$1.3 bln

* Non-cash impairment of up to A$850 mln on coal assets

* On track for first net loss in more than 20 yrs

* H&M, Zara, Uniqlo force Australian retailers to overhaul (Recasts throughout, updates MD quote adds analyst quote, adds shares)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, May 25 (Reuters) - Retail and resources conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd, Australia’s No.1 company by sales, flagged its worst yearly profit in two decades as competition from European fast fashion chains forces it to overhaul its discount department stores.

The owner of Kmart and Target department stores, Bunnings hardware stores and Coles supermarkets on Wednesday said it would take an impairment charge of up to A$1.3 billion ($937 million) on its 300 Target stores plus up to A$850 million more due to low coal prices in fiscal 2016.

It did not give a forecast but the 102-year-old company is now on track for its first annual net loss in more than 20 years, reflecting broader strains on Australian business as wages stagnate and the economy transitions out of a mining boom.

“When you announce a couple of billion dollars in impairments, even when they’re non-cash, you’re certainly not doing cartwheels about it,” Managing Director Richard Goyder told journalists.

“I wouldn’t raise this as one of my better days in the group.”

Goyder said he accepted analyst estimates that Wesfarmers was heading for a net loss of about A$300 million this year, compared with a A$2.4 billion net profit previously.

ECONOMIC HEADWINDS

The double-sided warning highlights the vulnerability of Australian retail giants like Wesfarmers and rival Woolworths Ltd to two key pressures on the economy: the arrival of aggressive global clothing chains like Sweden’s H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB and depressed commodities prices.

H & M, Spain-listed Industria de Diseño Textil’s Zara and Tokyo-listed Fast Retailing Co Ltd’s Uniqlo have already driven hefty restructures at Australia’s top two upmarket department store chains, David Jones and Myer Holdings Ltd.

Target’s biggest competitor, Woolworths’ Big W chain, has also felt the impact, watching pre-tax profit slump 25 percent in the 2015 financial year while it undertakes a transformation plan.

Shares of Wesfarmers, the country’s 9th biggest company by market capitalisation, fell more than 2 percent before recovering to be down 0.3 percent in the afternoon, while the broader market rose 1.8 percent.

“It’s by far the biggest drag (on the market). Was it expected? Probably not,” said Steven Daghlian, a market analyst at Commonwealth Securities, the trading arm of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which owns Wesfarmers shares.

On top of the impairment charge, the Perth-based company said it would record A$145 million in restructuring costs for Target, including payouts for 240 job cuts and expenses associated with streamlining its supply chain.

$1 = 1.3879 Australian dollars Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates

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