May 9: Tory leader shops supermarkets

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May 9: The Office of Fair Trading will refer the supermarkets to the Competition Commission after raising concerns earlier this year about supermarkets “banking” land, wider planning issues and the move by the big chains into the fast-growing convenience sector.

David Cameron has had his own go at supermarkets, and Tesco in particular. He made his remarks in a speech to Business in the Community, in the latest utterance in what seems an increasingly anti-business campaign. The Tory leader urged business to act “responsibly”, a sentiment (and that is all it is) that he equates with good neighbourliness. A company like Tesco has countless “neighbours”, he says: “The communities where its stores are based. The customers who shop there. The farmers and other businesses that supply the products it sells. The people who work in its stores and offices.” No mention, astonishingly, of any responsibility to shareholders.

Red Dave goes further. “Who better than Boots, an organisation that probably gets more ill people through its doors than even the NHS, to offer health education?” he asks, as if Boots shareholders hadn’t had to put up with enough already.

In an admission that it badly misjudged the threat from the internet, HMV is dropping its deal with Amazon and setting up its own online bookseller. This idea, which was proposed by Tim Waterstone when he was considering buying the bookstores which bear his name back off HMV, was accompanied by some poor trading figures. At 174p, HMV shares remain well below Permira’s proposed bid of 210p. With today’s news, management is still struggling to prove it was right to send Permira packing.

Separately, the latest retail sales figures show trading was stronger last month, thanks in part to the good weather and the timing of Easter.

Babcock shares are on the move on expectations that BAE Systems and VT Group are about to bid.

We’re doing more work on Eurotunnel today, following our story with Les Echos this morning about the latest restructuring proposal on the table. This would involve the company creating a new hybrid debt/equity instrument, which Goldman Sachs and Macquarie might underwrite. We can’t quite say as much because we don’t yet know enough about the structure or the instruments being proposed, but it’s hard not to imagine that, somehow, Goldman and Macquarie are going to end up in control of this particular hole in the ground.

NTL has confirmed it is cutting 6,000 jobs in the wake of its merger with Telewest. Presumably there will be more to come once the Virgin Mobile acquisition is complete. Exiledwolf.livejournal.com has some good stuff about call centres.

Sales at Sage Group, Britain’s biggest listed software company, increased 18 per cent to £456m in the first half and pre-tax profits rose 19 per cent to £113.7m. Despite failing in its bid for Visma in Norway, it sounds like Sage has other acquisitions in mind.

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