Retail round-up: troubled times

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Two of the UK's troubled supermarket groups head up this week's
round up of news from the European retail arena. Neither Marks
& Spencer nor J Sainsbury have had much to be happy about in
recent months, and, frankly, that is not about to change any time

Marks & Spencer, the focus of a possible takeover bid from entrepreneur Philip Green, has rejected the billionaire's latest proposed offer on the grounds that it still undervalues the group.

The £9 billion offer, as we reported​ earlier in the week, was the first to come close to meeting M&S' own valuation, and the first to gain the backing of two of the company's main shareholders, but the board has nonetheless rejected the deal, preferring to focus on its own new management team to bring it back from the brink - and we will all learn exactly how they hope to achieve this next week when the long -awaited (and very much needed) recovery plan is finally unveiled.

Quite what Stuart Rose, long-time friend and colleague of Philip Green, is expected to be able to do to convince shareholders not to Green's cash is unclear, with M&S strategy of diversifying into standalone stores (in food and houseware) proving to be a failure (thus far) and its core clothing ranges still firmly in the 'frumpy and unfashionable' bracket in many consumers' minds.

Whatever Rose decides to do, he will hope he will be more successful at it than Sir Peter Davis, long-beleaguered chairman of J Sainsbury and another figure who seems to have spent a great deal of time staring into the abyss of failure in recent months is. He finally plunged headlong into the dark last month with his decision to bring forward his retirement (in other words, he resigned before he got sacked).

But his earlier-than-planned retirement may not be the quiet, relaxed affair that most people hope to experience after a lifetime in work. No sooner had he 'retired' than he became embroiled in an increasingly heated debate over remuneration.

Prompted by criticism from shareholders (after all, Sir Peter was forced to resign as a result of a persistently poor performance from the company in the last few years), the Sainsbury Remuneration Committee has decided to review its decision to grant Sir Peter an award of 864,000 shares in the company as part of his bonus for 2003/04 - a year in which Sainsbury's share price, ironically, declined as its much publicised woes continued.

So shareholders will once again be able to flex their muscles and dictate Sir Peter's future at the company's forthcoming AGM, with the likelihood that he will leave the company with far less than he might have hoped for, in terms of cash, at least. Not that Sir Peter is likely to have to fall back on a state pension in his retirement, after years of senior management positions at the Prudential and Sainsbury, and in any case he may welcome not being burdened with shares in a company whose performance continues to under-impress…

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