The billionaire owners of Asda are trying to launch an audacious raid on Caffè Nero by buying part of its £350m debt pile. Brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa have approached lenders to the coffee chain seeking to build a position that would allow them to bid for control in a debt-for-equity swap if Caffè Nero was forced to restructure its borrowings (The Times £, The Telegraph).

The John Lewis Partnership is preparing to close another raft of department stores as chairwoman Dame Sharon White takes more drastic measures to slash costs (The Times £). John Lewis Partnership could take the axe to a raft of regional department stories as the pandemic sends shoppers online (The Telegraph). John Lewis is understood to be considering a fresh round of store closures, underscoring the toll that the pandemic is taking on Britain’s deserted high streets (The Guardian). John Lewis is preparing to close up to eight more department stores to slash costs after narrowly avoiding its first loss in 101 years (The Daily Mail).

If retail is to survive, the UK’s archaic business rates must change, writes M&S boss Steve Rose in the FT. “The pandemic has seen many loved brands disappear. It has also laid bare the urgent need to create a fairer and more sustainable tax system that relies less on property and doesn’t only go one way — up.” (The Financial Times £). The boss of Marks & Spencer has called on the Chancellor to use the increase in corporation tax to overhaul business rates and rescue the High Street (The Daily Mail).

The Treasury will delay publication of its review of business rates until later this year. The findings will now be published in the autumn, when the UK’s economic situation is expected to be clearer (Sky News). The economy’s post-Covid rebound could be hampered by delaying reforms to business rates, industry groups have argued, after the Chancellor confirmed he will unveil his plan later than expected (The Telegraph).

UK shoppers, like British businesses, need more reassurance from the chancellor, writes The Guardian. Frightening retail sales figures mean the Treasury must instil more confidence in struggling firms and consumers. (The Guardian)

Retail sales fell much further than expected last month as lockdown restrictions inflicted yet more damage on the high street. (The Times £)

An online provider of ready meals for the over-60s, Parsley Box, is exploring an £80m float that would crystallise multimillion-pound fortunes for its founders. (The Times £)

The secretive billionaires behind Home Bargains have paid themselves a £15.8 million dividend as profits at the discount retailer rose in the first lockdown (The Times £). Fiercely private discount retailer Home Bargains paid its billionaire owner a £15.8million dividend – but declined to say yesterday whether it has accepted a business rates holiday worth twice that amount (The Daily Mail).

Two Ocado directors bought shares in the company last week, taking advantage of a wobble in the share price following the release of a mixed 2020 full-year result. (The Financial Times £)

The Times looks at the CMA investigation into the Issa brothers and TDR Capital’s takeover of Asda, writing: “Industry sources say that the regulator will be most concerned about whether the new owners will increase fuel prices at Asda’s forecourts and whether their rapidly growing empire will become an overly dominant force in the petrol stations market.” (The Times £)

While electric vehicle drivers will appreciate the convenience, Gridserve’s prototype may prompt alarm among the owners of old-fashioned petrol stations, facing arguably the biggest change the industry has seen. Like car-makers, forecourt operators are in a race to overhaul their operations and get ahead of a ban on the sale of vehicles powered solely by petrol or diesel from 2030. (The Times £)

Danone chief executive Emmanuel Faber has defended his turnround plan at the French consumer goods maker, which has come under fire from a group of dissatisfied shareholders. (The Financial Times £)

Growth in UK manufacturing activity fell to a nine-month low in February, as Brexit trade barriers hampered the sector’s exports and its ability to secure raw materials and components from overseas, according to a closely watched survey. (The Financial Times £)

High street giant Marks & Spencer is set to kickstart a once-in-a-generation overhaul of its clothing strategy by offering a string of top fashion brands alongside its own ranges. (The Daily Mail)

Coronavirus has brought about a “step-change in consumer behaviour” and will cause a permanent shift to more online shopping, according to the UK’s largest listed property company (The Financial Times £). Changing consumer habits and disruption to supply chains during the pandemic have led to a record rise in demand for warehouse space, Britain’s biggest listed property company said yesterday (The Times £).

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