On the face of it there was plenty to cheer the big supermarket chains when Competition Commission chairman Peter Freeman unveiled last week's Emerging Thinking - its progress report on the inquiry into the UK's grocery market.
The fact that share prices in the big three listed chains - Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - edged upwards demonstrated the City saw no great cause for concern.
"The Commission is looking favourably on large retailers," says Citigate research analyst David McCarthy. "A number of claims and accusations have been dismissed and the general tone of the document is not aggressive."
The report elicited cries of whitewash - and demands that the Commission get tough on the supermarkets. "This report does not propose major changes. Once again farmers and consumers have been let down," says Roger Williams MP, the Lib Dem Defra spokesperson.
However, the report still containes plenty to keep the multiples' armies of lawyers working late into the night. In particular, much remains unresolved in the domain of landbanks. The Commission confirmed that Tesco had the biggest landbank of the big four, but it was less than impressed by Justin King 's maths: In its submission to the inquiry last year, the Sainsbury's CEO claimed, by its own calculations, that if Tesco built on all its undeveloped land it would end up with a market share of up to 43%. This assertion drew enormous publicity at the time - but the Commission threw the claim out.
Indeed, it added, tartly: "Several of the other grocery retailers whose land holdings we have analysed have land holdings that are a significant proportion of their existing retail space."
Of greater significance is the Commission's promise to examine "the relationship between grocery retailers' land holdings and their existing retail outlets".
Or, to put it another way: find out if supermarket giants hoard landbanks close to existing stores to prevent their rivals building outlets nearby.
So if it turns out the Commission thinks they do, should retailers fear a forced sell-off of landbanks?
Probably not, according to Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner. "There is a sentence indicating a worry about 'ways in which land holdings might be used to impede entry by competitors into the local markets'.
"But I'd have thought a forced sale was unlikely. More likely they would place a time limit on how quickly a store must be built."
However, he warns: "We believe the final report could outlaw any restrictive covenants to prevent other supermarkets using land being disposed of."
Another area of concern for the multiples is the decision to look at the market on a local level. The Commission has moved to force sell-offs on a local basis before, in the wake of the Morrisons/ Safeway merger in 2003 and the purchase of 115 stores from Morrisons by Somerfield in 2005.
Again, Ratner thinks a similar remedy is unlikely following this investigation.
Yet he concedes the Commission could decide to apply the methodology used in these merger investigations to the planning process to regulate future store openings on a local basis.
This could be done by replacing the existing non-brand-specific quantitative needs test, which is used by local authorities to decide whether more retail space is needed, with a fascia-sensitive test that would favour retailers new to an area, or with a lesser presence.
Such an outcome would make it harder for retailers to expand through store openings and extensions in towns where they already have a major presence. On the whole that may be welcomed by Tesco's rivals.
One caveat, however, is that the Commission has stated it has no intention of punishing Tesco, or anyone, just for being successful. And while the Commission remains undecided on key issues, the retail giants' opponents still have much to do to persuade the inquiry team that their activities are to the detriment of consumers and that action is required.
With landbanking, a local market and other issues still on Freeman's to-do list, it is far too early to write Emerging Thinking off as a not-guilty verdict.n