Should you consider Woolworths (ASX: WOW) shares?

Good news story of the week: Woolworths is giving more than 100,000 employees a $750 stake in the company as a thank you for working during the coronavirus pandemic and bushfires.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Bianucci said in a statement the company thought the share program was the best way to reward workers.

“From protests in Hong Kong, droughts and bushfires in Australia to the devastating volcanic activity in New Zealand and finally COVID-19, we have pulled together as a team to support each other, our customers and the communities in which we live and operate,” he said.

“This has taken an enormous amount of hard work and dedication and through our collective commitment we have indeed lived our purpose of creating better experiences together for a better tomorrow. We could think of no better way to thank and recognise our team than by making them shareholders in our Group.”

More than 100,000 full-time employees, employed before 1 March and that aren't already part of the company's short-term incentive schemes (STI), will receive shares.

Recipients can either keep or sell the shares.

The company’s shares have been on a slow rise since the announcement and look as if they will continue to ascend.

An interesting 12 months for Woolworths

Last year, Woolworth’s September share price rise was facilitated by the release of the Lion King movie and subsequent merchandising.

The Lion King has far greater influence than just entertaining hordes of young children and those of us who love a good story, told well.
The opening weekend of the live action movie generated $269 million at the international box office

After 40 days of release, it had earned $1.01 billion internationally.

And then came the merchandising in the form of Ooshies – The Lion King Ooshies – miniature plastic animals.

As Disney shares roared to life on the back of Avengers Endgame and The Lion King releases, merchandise was the cream on top.

Last financial year, Woolworths raised full-year profit by 7.2 per cent to $1.7 billion after a robust second-half performance, with normalised revenue for the year to 30 June climbing by 3.4 per cent to $59.9 billion. (It will be interesting to compare come 30 June this year.)

The first eight weeks of FY20 was even better as Lion King Ooshies collectables helped drive 7.5 per cent comparable sales growth across the company's 1,000-plus network of supermarkets.

The then $45 billion capped company’s share price spiked 0.41% on the news.

In February 2020 the company’s share price hit an all-time high of $43.96. The market subsequently crashed and shares fell to $32.12. Panic buying spiked the price back to the $40 level. It dipped back to around the $32 mark mid-March and has been sitting around the $36 range since, possibly because the costs surrounding COVID-19 safety are seen as prohibitive.

Suffice to say, Woolworths hasn’t been part of the ASX’s mini-resurgence of late.

That might not be a negative

Investors love good news stories and giving shares to staff is certainly one of those. Woolworths also this week re-introduced paper bags at its check outs. Eco-friendly company movements usually gain investor attention.

Kellogg researchers found that ‘paying attention to firms’ sustainability—captured in metrics called environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria—can actually improve the share price.

Investors see these companies as resilient to industry shake ups such as consumer-driven demand for eco-friendly products.

“They can adapt better to these kinds of changes,” says Ravi Jagannathan, a professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management. “Firms that are truly doing better along those dimensions are safer.”

The other factor working in Woolworth’s favour is that it is trading at no premium to Coles Group Ltd (ASX: COL).

Woolworths is the larger company. It commands a higher price. Yet its price to earnings ratio and trailing dividend yield is currently neck and neck with Coles, with Woolworths slightly ahead.

Dividends are important, especially in an era of low interest rates.

As the Motley Fool says, ‘Woolworths is one of the most reliable ASX dividend shares on the ASX today’.

As such, this is a stock worth considering, although as always, we urge you to do your own due diligence and seek professional financial advice before making any financial decision.
And bear in mind, there might also be a big movie on the horizon, full of merchandise for supermarkets to exploit once Hollywood begins to release its blockbusters. You say what happened with the Ooshies …

This update is not financial advice. This article is general news and information.

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