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Today’s big story is clearly the Competition Commission’s comments on supermarkets. It is zeroing right in on Tesco, its land bank and its relationship with suppliers, which is what most people wanted. In particular it says it will focus on what impact the retailer has on local choice. I won’t say more here as we have a lot on FT.com already but expect us to go town on this in tomorrow’s paper.
The other big story today is Tate & Lyle’s profit warning, which looks pretty catastrophic, even though the CEO and COO each bought £100,000 worth of shares this morning. The stock is off 15 per cent and is dragging Cadbury Schweppes and Associated British Foods down a bit. Britvic is holding up, but probably just because its price is underpinned by takeover speculation. Weak demand from Tate & Lyle’s Splenda Sucralose, largely because of poor uptake in the US fizzy drinks industry, comes just as the group has increased capacity in Alabama and Singapore. Not very long ago, Splenda was the hottest thing around, lifting Tate & Lyle’s stock to amazing heights. We’ll take a look at what seems to have gone wrong.
More hot air from Nasdaq. Read their statement if you must or hold your breath until 3pm on Friday, the deadline Nasdaq has set for the LSE to open talks with it. Investors seem to be divided over what they want Clara Furse and the LSE board to do. Personally, I doubt the LSE will blink but it’s impossible to be sure. The LSE’s shares are off a touch this morning at £13.10.
Very interesting pensions deal from M&S. It is plugging part of the £700m hole in its defined benefit pension scheme by allowing the scheme part-ownership of its properties. This, it says, it worth about £500m. There are echoes here of what BAE did last year.
WH Smith saw sales fall in the Christmas season, but gross margins continued to improve. Total like-for-like sales for the seven weeks to January 20 fell 6 per cent. At the company’s High Street division, like-for-like sales dropped 8 per cent over the same period and 9 per cent in the 20 weeks before January 20. The shares, up 5 ½ per cent this morning, rose to a five and a half year high today but you have to wonder how long Kate Swann can keep scratching margin improvements out of shrinking high street sales.
We’ll also take a look at The Times’s story this morning about three bidders – two US healthcare firms called Cerner and McKesson and a US private equity outfit called General Atlantic Partners – competing to buy Isoft. Shares in the medical software group are up 16 per cent.
Rumours of the Day: Neil Hume on our markets desk says J Sainsbury shares are on the move on talk that Lord Sainsbury may place some of his shares in the group with a strategic investor when his three-month lock-up expires next month. Diageo shares are also being supported on hopes it may try to buy Rémy Cointreau.