On Tuesday morning, Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht told analysts at his group’s results presentation that financial 2018 had been the toughest year he could recall. "We went to war," said Engelbrecht who has undergone something of a baptism of fire since he took over Whitey Basson’s job in January 2017. Two days later, the same collection of analysts listened to Woolworths CEO Ian Moir and finance director Reeza Isaacs describe the conditions behind the first loss the group has reported since listing in 1997. Moir and Isaacs both looked as though they had been through the war that Engelbrecht had referred to. While Engelbrecht talked energetically, and theoretically, of having gone to war, Moir and Isaacs gave the weary impression they had actually been in the trenches. Also on Thursday, the six-month results from Massmart, which revealed another drop in sales, did nothing to lift the gloom that had descended on the market. While each of the major retailers had their own twist to t...

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