Now that FY19 results have been released, it is time for a revisit of the Woolworths Group Ltd (ASX: WOW) versus Coles Group Limited (ASX: COL) debate. Are they a buy, hold or sell?

Key Differences

It is easy to just think of Woolworths and Coles as direct competitors that can be compared side by side. While this is true at a supermarket level, it doesn’t necessarily apply at the group or company-wide level.

At a group level, Woolworths owns a collection of different businesses, including the supermarkets, Dan Murphy’s, BWS, Big W and ALH.

Coles group controls businesses such as Coles, Coles Online and Coles Express, which all operate in the supermarket space. It also has Coles Liquor, which owns First Choice and Liquorland. Both Woolworths and Coles have operations in the financial services and insurance space.

While the two businesses are similar, it is important to remember that Woolworths is a much larger business with a slightly wider range of services.

Financials

Keeping these differences in mind, we can look at the financial results.

Woolworths generated significantly higher revenue in FY19, reporting $59.98 billion in sales compared to $35 billion for Coles. This represented yearly growth of 5.3% for Woolworths and 3.1% for Coles.

Woolworths reported EBIT growth of 5% to $2.7 billion, while Coles EBIT declined 8.1% to $1.3 billion. This also gives Woolworths a higher EBIT margin of approximately 4.5% compared to 3.8% for Coles.

Coles reported a gross profit margin of 24.8% in FY19, up 0.20 percentage points, while Woolworths’ gross profit margin declined by 0.24 percentage points to 29.1%.

The most important figures above are the margins because as we saw Woolworths and Coles are very different in size, so a side-by-side comparison of dollar values has little meaning. Margins give a sense of profitability, and the FY19 reports indicate that Woolworths is a more profitable business.

The price-earnings (PE) ratios of the two companies reflect this, with Woolworths trading on a PE ratio of 17.8 times and Coles on 13.16 times. The following tutorial from Rask Finance explains how to value Woolworths shares using ratio analysis:

Dividends

Woolworths declared a final dividend of 57 cents per share (cps), bringing the full-year dividend to 102 cps. Coles declared a final dividend of 24 cps as well as a special dividend of 11.5 cps, but it is difficult to assume the dividend yield without a full year of normal dividends.

However, if we only look at the final dividend, the Woolworths final dividend is around 1.54% of the current share price while the Coles dividend was around 1.66%, suggesting the dividend yields will likely be similar.

My Take

Based on the FY19 results, it looks like the two companies may pay similar dividends, but Woolworths appears to be more profitable. The different PE ratios seem to account for the difference in profitability, so I’m not sure that one has a more attractive valuation than the other. If I had to pick one right now to buy, it would probably be Woolworths for the profitability and higher growth.

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Disclaimer: Any information contained in this article is limited to general financial/investment advice only. The information has not taken into account your specific needs, goals or objectives, so please consider consulting a licenced and trusted adviser before acting on the information. Please read The Rask Group’s Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information. This article is authorised by Owen Raszkiewicz of The Rask Group, which is a corporate authorised representative No. 1264179 of Strawman Pty Ltd (ACN: 610 908 211) (AFSL: 501 223).

Disclosure: At the time of writing, Max does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.