UBS research that found that two in five of Asda’s largest stores are a five-minute drive from a Sainsbury’s has increased the likelihood of the £7.3bn merger facing close scrutiny by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), reports The Times (£). The broker found that 39% of Asda’s “supercentres” are within a five-minute drive of a Sainsbury’s, as are about 30% of smaller Asda stores. The newspaper says both retailers will hope the CMA’s methodology is more sophisticated than simply measuring the distance between stores.
Meanwhile, Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s chief executive has written to Frank Field, chairman of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee, promising the proposed deal will be “good news” for the members of his company’s pension schemes, the newspaper reports in the same article.
“Let me take this opportunity to reassure you that our plans take full account of our obligations to our current and former colleagues. This is good news for our members”, Coupe said, reports The Independent. Sainsbury’s’ schemes had a combined deficit of £974m in March 2017, a gap that more than doubled after the takeover of Argos in 2016. Asda’s had a shortfall of £408m the last time it was calculated in March 2016.
Christin Tacon, the groceries code adjudicator, has separately told the environment, food and rural affairs committee that her ambition is to bring Asda up to Sainsbury’s standards of treating suppliers. The Daily Telegraph says Tacon has given her tentative backing to the mega-merger. She said she had “no concerns at all” about the size and scale which did not affect her ability to regulate supermarkets.
The Sainsbury’s-Asda tie-up may prove that bigger is better, says The Daily Telegraph. The Daily Mail notes Sainsbury’s latest annual results revealed a ‘return to growth’ for the supermarket group. Sainsbury’s reported underlying pre-tax profit hit £589m with profits in the second half of the 2017/18 year up 11%. None of the other newspapers reported this today because although Wednesday was the previously scheduled day for reporting the results and they were notified to the stock market yesterday, the retailer had already detailed the results on Monday when it announced its proposed deal with Asda.
Meanwhile, former Asda business development director John Maltman, said the companies were treating people “as fools” when they said there would be no store closures, The Independent. He said the CMA should block the deal. He also warned that both companies should be considered acquisition targets.
Ocado looks out of shape, says Lex in the Financial Times (£), commenting on the online grocer’s announcement yesterday of a partnership with Sweden’s ICA. The writer says Ocado is saying little about the profitability of the deal but its negative free cash flow will not reverse and it will still need outside funds. The Times (£) notes it is Ocado’s fourth international licencing deal in less than a year. A business commentary in The Times (£) says Sainsbury’s chief executive, Mike Coupe, will be cheering on Ocado, too – proof there is more to grocery than shops. The Daily Telegraph says Ocado’s ICA deal shows the online grocer has “shrugged off” the threat of a looming grocery price war on the back of Sainsbury’s proposed merger with Asda. The Daily Mail notes that investors have been waiting for Ocado to start developing the group’s technology supply operations for several years.
Kraft Heinz has reported a 1.5% fall in organic net sales in the three months to the end of March. They fell 3.3% in the US, rose 5% in Canada, climbed 2.3% in the EMEA region and 3% in the rest of the world. Net income climbed 11.1% to $993m. The shares climbed 5% after hours, the Financial Times (£).
Signs have emerged that a possible trade war between China and the US is already reshaping buying patterns to the detriment of US farmers after Chinese buyers halted purchases of this year’s coming American soyabean crop, according to Soren Schroder, chief executive of Bunge., reports the Financial Times (£).
Molson Coors shares hit a four-year low after the brewer posted a 4.8% fall in sales in the quarter to the end of March to $2.33bn, the Financial Times (£) The shares touched a four-year low of $62 on anxieties about whether craft beer and liquor will continue to gain market share from mainstream brews.
Bunge is pushing ahead with plans to float its Brazilian sugar mills, the Financial Times (£). The agricultural trading giant expects to file for an IPO of a minority stake in the business later this month.
Unilever and Ocado shareholders have put the companies on notice about “excessive” pay awards at their AGMs, reports The Times (£). Almost 36% of the votes at Unilever were opposed to the company’s remuneration policy. Some 16.5% of shareholders voted against Ocado’s remuneration reports. A business commentary in The Times (£) quips that putting someone called Ann Fudge in charge of the Unilever pay committee was always asking for trouble.
Amazon is poised to gate-crash the bidding for a controlling stake in India’s Flipkart, says The Times (£). Flipkart is already in talks with Walmart. Indian TV channel CNBC-TV18 said Amazon’s bid was likely to be at a similar level to Walmart’s offer for a majority stake, thought to be worth up to £12bn. It claimed Amazon had offered a $2bn break-up fee as part of its play for the group.
A recent departee from the Department for International Trade has told The Times (£) that farming minister George Eustice had given MPs an unrealistically optimistic picture of post-Brexit food standards. David Henig, who left in March said Eustice was being “highly optimistic” when he suggested that Britain would be able to resist accepting certain types of products, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef.
KFC’s chicken famine has come home to roost. Yum Brands, its American owner, said that sales at KFC had dipped 9% cent in the UK in the first quarter, contributing to a drop in takings from KFC outlets worldwide of 10% to $658m, The Times (£). Yum said that KFC would have reported comparable sales growth of 3% in the UK without the shortage.
Subway is on the hunt for a new chief executive after the sandwich chain announced Suzanne Greco would officially retire from the role on 30 June, reports the Financial Times (£). Trevor Haynes, chief business development officer, who is already managing day-to-day operations, will serve as interim chief until a formal replacement is identified.
The two African-American men whom a Philadelphia Starbucks manager arrested in April for sitting at a table without ordering anything are to get an undisclosed sum from the coffee group after mediation before a retired federal judge, the Financial Times (£). The City of Philadelphia, in a separate settlement paid the two men a symbolic $1 (74p) each and a pledge to establish a $200,000 programme to support young entrepreneurs, it reports along with The Guardian and the BBC.