Coles share price holds firm while Woolworths tumbles 18% in 2024. Time to buy?

We canvas the views of a few top brokers on whether Coles shares are a good buy today.

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The Coles Group Ltd (ASX: COL) share price has held firm in 2024, while the Woolworths Group Ltd (ASX: WOW) share price has tanked.

Coles shares finished the session on Friday at $16.24 and are up 0.5% in the year to date.

The company's chief competitor and Australia's supermarket sector leader, Woolworths, closed at $30.72 on Friday with the share price down 18% in the year to date.

As my colleague Seb points out, Coles shares are trading at a more attractive P/E ratio at the moment. But will that last?

Let's canvas the views of a few top brokers to see if they think Coles shares are a good buy at today's price.

Stable Coles share price vs. Woolworths wash-out in 2024

Bell Potter has a buy rating on Coles and a 12-month price target of $19.

The broker notes moderating costs, supply chain improvements, and a positive long-term outlook for the company, commenting:

Costs are expected to remain elevated but should moderate through FY24 and FY25 as general inflation tapers off.

In the medium term, 1) higher immigration should support grocery spending, and 2) Coles is entering a period of elevated capex intensity as it reinvests to modernise its supply chain and to catch up to competitors on online and digital offerings, which should help Coles maintain its market position.

Morgans has an add rating on Coles with a 12-month share price target of $18.95.

Equities strategist Andrew Tang explains why they like Coles shares:

In our view, the ongoing scrutiny on the supermarkets has affected short term sentiment in the sector, which we believe creates a good buying opportunity in COL.

While Liquor sales remain soft, we expect the core Supermarkets division (~92% of earnings) to continue to be supported by further improvement in product availability, reduction in total loss, greater in-home consumption due to cost-of-living pressures, and population growth.

UBS also has a buy rating on Coles with a share price target of $18.25. 

The broker says there are tailwinds for the business. These include a potential expansion of gross profit margins in 2024 and various cost savings that are helping it deliver "improved earnings momentum".

Then there's the outlier…

Goldman Sachs has a completely different view. The top broker says Coles shares are a sell and has a 12-month price target of $15.40 on the stock.

In a recent note, analysts Lisa Deng and James Leigh said Coles had under-invested in its digital transformation and omnichannel strategy, which is "the primary reason for structural market share loss".

They explained:

Even though the company is stepping up its investments in supply chain, we would like to see the company better illustrate its end-to-end digital strategy including sourcing, warehouse/distribution, merchandising, consumer data/analytics and loyalty to ultimately drive ARPU and market share gains together with cost efficiencies.

Deng and Leigh expect Coles to report lower comps sales and EBIT margin growth in FY25/FY26 compared to Woolworths.

They are also concerned about potential further delays with the Witron/Ocado project.

Motley Fool contributor Bronwyn Allen has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has positions in and has recommended Goldman Sachs Group. The Motley Fool Australia has positions in and has recommended Coles Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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