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S.Africa’s Massmart plans further store closures, flags wider net loss this year

* Massmart will close further 14 cash & carry stores

* FY net loss seen widening to $116 mln

* Lost 6 bln rand worth of sales on COVID-19 restrictions

* Massmart says margins and expenses improve (Adds impairments, details on store closures)

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 19 (Reuters) – South African retailer Massmart said on Friday it was planning further store closures and flagged a deeper full-year net loss of more than 1.7 billion rand ($116.8 million) after curbs related to the COVID-19 pandemic hammered sales.

Chief Executive Officer Mitch Slape, a veteran of the retailer’s majority owner Walmart Inc, announced a turnaround plan last year to return Massmart to profitability by shutting underperforming stores and cutting costs.

The retailer said on Friday it would close an additional 14 Masscash cash and carry stores, under the Browns & Weirs and Jumbo brands. In 2020 it had said it might close 11 underperforming Masscash stores, but later sold eight of them to Devland Cash and Carry. The potential sale of the remaining three is still under consideration.

As of June 28, the Masscash division had 131 food retail and wholesale outlets under the Cambridge Food, Rhino cash and carry, Jumbo cash and carry and Shield brands.

The Game and Makro department chain owner said it expected a net loss of between 1.711 billion rand and 1.776 billion rand in the year to Dec. 27, compared to a net loss of 1.3 billion rand a year before.

It said its headline loss however, the main profit measure in South Africa, would slightly narrow to between 901 million rand and 958 million rand from 1.2 billion rand.

Massmart estimated that lockdown curbs, including extended restrictions on liquor trading, lowered its 2020 sales by at least 6 billion rand year-on-year.

Massmart, under pressure even before the pandemic as cash-strapped customers battled high unemployment, modest wage increases and higher average fuel and utility prices, said it incurred impairment losses of about 798 million rand.

The company also expects net debt during the year to rise by around 200 million rand from the previous year. Total interest costs are expected to be around 3.4% lower.

Massmart said signs that its turnaround plan was bearing fruit continued to show as margins improved and full-year expenses were flat compared to 2019. In June it raised its three-year cost saving target to 1.9 billion rand. ($1 = 14.5609 rand) (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru, Tanisha Heiberg and Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Nick Tattersall)

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