* Headline EPS down 3.8 pct, first drop since 1999
* Angola currency devaluation weighs
* Share price tumbles to one-year low (Adds shares, dividend, CEO quote)
By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Africa’s biggest grocer Shoprite reported its first annual earnings decline in 19 years on Tuesday, due to a currency devaluation in Angola and a lacklustre showing in its home South African market and elsewhere on the continent.
South African retailers have struggled to lift earnings as elevated household debts, higher fuel prices and an increase in value-added tax squeeze consumer income.
But Shoprite, which has extensive operations elsewhere on the continent, took another hit this year as key markets in Angola and Nigeria battle chronic foreign exchange shortages and tepid economic growth.
Shares in Shoprite tumbled more than 7 percent to a level last seen in August last year. At 1148 GMT shares were down 6.44 percent, on track for their worst daily fall since December 2016.
Chief Executive Pieter Engelbrecht told a results presentation it was probably “the toughest (year) that I can recall.”
A listeria outbreak, blamed on a tainted meat product, that forced Shoprite to conduct its largest ever product recall, two strikes over pay and 489 armed robberies at its stores sapped turnover growth, Engelbrecht said.
The Cape Town-based retailer said diluted headline earnings per share (EPS) for the year ended July fell by 3.8 percent to 968.7 cents.
That compares with a predicted 8.2 percent increase, or 1,090 cents, estimated in a poll of 10 analysts by Thomson Reuters’ I/B/E/S.
The company last reported a decline in diluted headline EPS in its financial year ending in 1999. Diluted headline EPS, the most widely watched profit gauge in South Africa, strips out certain one-off items.
Shoprite, which targets lower-income consumers with discounts on staples such as maize meal and potatoes, slashed its final dividend by 14 percent to 279 cents per share.
“The fact that they cut the dividend, I suppose the market is saying the consumer looks like it’s under more pressure than they realised and it’s quite a disappointing set of earnings,” said Greg Davies, an equities trader with Cratos Capital.
Trading in Nigeria continues to be hampered by foreign exchange fluctuations which have limited imports and therefore ranges in stores, while in Angola, Shoprite’s biggest market outside South Africa, the currency has lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar since December 2017.
This weighed on its non-South Africa operations, which recorded a decline in sales of 7 percent, while its local division reported turnover growth of 5.7 percent.
Sales rose 3.1 percent to 145.3 billion rand ($9.9 billion). Rest of Africa operations contribute 18 percent to group sales.
“Non-RSA (Republic of South Africa) is still profitable, it’s not a crisis,” Engelbrecht said, adding that the grocery chain store remains committed to Africa as shown by its recent bid for 11 franchise stores in Botswana.
“It (the process) is still under arbitration and we should have an answer at the end of the calendar year,” Engelbrecht said.
$1 = 14.6363 rand Reporting by Nqobile Dludla Editing by Edmund Blair and Adrian Croft