Andy Bond, Asda's new chief executive, should be renamed James, if he pursues a bid for Somerfield. A takeover of its smaller rival by the UK's second largest supermarket chain would demand daring worthy of a special agent.
Not content with spending £100m in a price war with Tesco, the increasingly dominant market leader, Asda may now be contemplating a move into convenience stores to claw back market share.
The convenience sector does have its appeal. Currently 20 per cent of the £120bn UK grocery market, it is growing faster than average. Somerfield has a 3 per cent share of the sector, while Tesco is expected this year to steal the top spot.
Wal-Mart, Asda's parent, is still fuming at the competition authorities' unwillingness to let it buy Safeway in 2003, and is clearly unhappy with its number 2 UK spot. But it has traditionally steered clear of the small store format.
And is Somerfield worth buying? A £1.12bn bid - the latest price mooted - would imply a lease-adjusted enterprise value of £230 per square foot, cheap compared to the £500 per sq ft Wm Morrison paid for Safeway. But Somerfield stores have low sales density and would need a great deal of investment.
An Asda bid might also force the Competition Commission to end the artificial distinction it makes between convenience and large stores, which has so far allowed it to turn a blind eye to the big supermarkets' encroachment on the sector. Investors should be shaken by the prospect, rather than stirred.
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