The CMA must be so very busy at the moment. Tesco and Booker announced in January that they intended to corporately intertwine and yet - as the second May bank holiday approaches - there is no sign yet that it wants to ask the wider world what it thinks of it. Maybe by the time this edition of The Grocer hits your letterbox all will be revealed and the CMA officials will just have been doing what they do best: making sure the CMA does not leave any room for external challenge.
Once it has worked that little conundrum out it can start the process of interacting with the parallel universe that we tend to call the ‘real world’. The remarkably long time it has taken the CMA to consult on the Tesco-Booker engagement reflects a clear dysfunctionality. Business, in this case both the wedding couple, the guests and the interested observers, appreciate clarity and certainty; a universal frustration is uncertainty. What the CMA is doing, therefore, with its extended pre-prandials is not helpful. One suspects that the CMA is coming to terms with the ridiculously overarching role that the regulator has given itself in recent decades in the most minute transactions in the British grocery scene. Correspondingly, there must have been a run on Andrex in the organisation when Britain’s largest supermarket group and retail wholesaler decided to hitch. Should it decide on full retail analysis on the Tesco-Booker overlap, then that loo roll may be needed.
Of course, the CMA may do a volte face and announce a new phase of light touch regulation - make sure that Mrs May does not find out - and so clear the Booker-Tesco marriage with not even a request of parish. Such a decision, however, could ultimately lead to the Archbishop being wheeled out, scope for legal challenge, maybe even that phrase that relaxes the CMA’s organisational bowels: judicial review. Few in the food and retail industries respect the CMA; the legal profession, of course, adores it, and once Tesco-Booker is complete, one way or another, whoever is occupying 10 Downing St should unleash the treatment the CMA imposes upon the economy with a commonsense, root & branch review, preferably headed up by Malcolm Tucker.
Clive Black is head of research at Shore Capital Stockbrokers