"It’s been an odd old year," Woolworths CEO Ian Moir said at last week’s results presentation. Shareholders, who have seen the value of their investment in the retailer unravel, might be inclined to a blunter description of the company’s performance. For one, the acquisition of Australian department store David Jones shows little sign of delivering what was promised when the R22bn purchase was signed four years ago. On the contrary, the decision to impair David Jones by almost R7bn resulted in Woolworths posting a full-year loss of R3.5bn. Woolworths’ local fashion offering was roundly rejected by its core 35-to 50-year-old customer base, and only its food division showed any real growth. Being in the fashion business means any retailer runs the risk of misreading trends. But in a note to clients, Investec analyst David Smith writes: "Outside of Edcon, Woolworths has by far been the worst apparel performer of the large listed players in SA over the past 10 years … This … suggests th...

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