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This morning we were greeted with the sight of both Alliance Boots and J Sainsbury bending over backwards to look like they have real growth plans despite the conflicts of interest on their boards as they face possible bids.
In a nine-page trading statement, Alliance Boots announced plans to rebrand the bulk of its 900-strong community pharmacy estate, streamline the pharmacy management system and reshuffle its store portfolio. Investors managed to contain their excitement, leaving the shares unchanged. Which is very convenient for Stefano Pessina, who wants to buy the group with backing from KKR. If this was a de facto defence, it was feeble.
Sainsbury’s did a little better at trying to look good, despite the fact that its chief executive, Justin King, stands to do very well if a private equity consortium buys the group and, as expected, keeps him on board. It produced a 5.9 per cent increase in like-for-like sales excluding fuel, which was ahead of expectations. However, there seemed to be no attempt by the company to come up with any new ideas. The shares, consequently, have barely moved.
There is a lot other retail news today, not all of it good. Woolworths managed to turn in an even worse trading update than expected (and nobody expected very much). Laura Ashley, on the other hand, has turned in its best full-year profit in a decade. Sales were good and so were margins.
And Jessops, which is being hit by digital cameras getting cheaper, has managed yet another profits warning (its third in less than four months if I’m counting right). It says it will make a loss, scrap its dividend, conduct a strategic review and is in talks with its banks. Its non-executive chairman, Gavin Simonds, is off, saying he can’t commit as much time as the company needs, and the commercial director has resigned. The shares have fallen more than 70 per cent since the announcement came out just after 1pm and are 90 per cent below their float price in October 2004. What a mess.
Those for whom that is not enough retail news can keep up to speed with the goings on at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona through FT.com. Beth Rigby, our retail correspondent, has organised a terrific line-up of high-profile video interviews which you will be able to watch online all week.
Elsewhere, Royal Dutch Shell says chief executive Jeroen van der Veer will continue in his post until June 2009, extending his contract by a year and taking him past the normal retirement age, we think. Malcolm Brinded, head of exploration and production, is the favourite to succeed him.
And Daily Mail & General Trust sees signs of a tentative recovery in the ad market. Finance director Peter Williams says he is not interested in the Trinity Mirror regional titles, which is just as well as he has his hands full with his own regional repair job.