Speaking as Morrisons reported a surprise slowdown in growth for the first quarter, Pennycook refused to rule himself out of the running to replace Ian Dyson, who unexpectedly quit M&S this week to become chief executive at Punch Taverns.
Morrisons' like-for-like sales growth for the 13 weeks to 2 May was just 0.8% a sharp fall against 6% growth for the year to 31 January and at the lower end of analysts' forecasts of zero to 3%. "I won't rule myself in or out of anything," said Pennycook. "I love Morrisons and have always said that. It's business as usual."
There are still a number of barriers to Pennycook jumping ship. It is understood that part of the deal allowing Bolland to join M&S involved undertakings not to poach any of his senior team, and in a bid to keep Pennycook loyal, the Morrisons board sweetened his terms. However it is not thought either of these would be enough to bar him from following Bolland south. "If Bolland wants to take Pennycook to M&S, these clauses are irrelevant," said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black.
Commenting on Morrisons' performance, Pennycook said the slowdown was as a result of the "disappearance of food price inflation" and a tough comparison against its stellar performance this time last year, and that Morrisons was still "keeping its nose ahead of the market". "This time a year ago like-for-likes were 8.2% and our two-year growth is 9%," he said. "There are going to be some negative like-for-likes around."
There would not be any significant change in the inflationary trend over the next few months but Morrisons' sales forecasts for the year would not change, he said.
Meanwhile he said new CEO Dalton Philips was "settling in well" and would give his first public update at Morrisons' interim results in September.