With just two days to go before Tesco’s titanic Thursday, the hordes of journalists and analysts following the crisis have been falling over themselves with fevered speculation about what CEO Dave Lewis will have to report.
When he finally takes to the stage for its delayed interims, it will be one of the most eagerly awaited financial announcements of recent years.
Already this week there have been reports that the black hole in Tesco’s finances might not actually be quite as bad as expected, although if Sky News’ tip that it is only around £225m is true, it is hardly going to ease the pressure on Lewis’ shoulders.
It has been reported that Lewis is confident he has got to the bottom of the issue. But will he be able to answer some of the biggest questions on everybody’s lips? Not least, what was the extent of the accounting issue, and is it just a current-year matter – which for some suppliers is the key issue? If not, how long has it been going on? And was this a fundamental practice happening in Tesco buying teams, or more of an accounting issue at head office?
All of these will have to be tackled if The Daily Telegraph’s report suggesting Tesco’s brand has been “severely compromised” is not to prove the understatement of the year. And, of course, we’ll be looking for answers as to the fate of those eight executives currently suspended, including UK managing director Chris Bush and commercial director John Scouler. Has the new boss lined up any new faces from outside the company, and can we expect to see anyone promoted from within the embattled Tesco ranks?
Amid the clamour for answers, there was a somewhat longer-term view today from David McCarthy, head of European consumer retail research at HSBC, who reminded us that Lewis’s rescue mission is about much more than clearing up the mystery of the missing millions.
Tesco’s rebuilding could take up to six years, according to McCarthy, but could ultimately see it emerge as a long-term winner.
McCarthy predicts that Tesco will need to invest £3bn if it is to complete its fightback. To put that in context, that’s a sum three times greater than the war chests that Morrisons and Asda have set aside to invest in prices. HSBC advocates that Tesco invest that £3bn on a combination of lower prices, more staff on the front line and improvements in quality, in what McCarthy argues will be a marathon rather than a sprint.
In the mad rush to find out what happened in one of the most intriguing scandals of recent times, it will be Lewis’ success in this longer-term race that will ultimately be his most important legacy.
But in the meantime, let’s get our pens sharped for Thursday.