MD writes...

An Addendum: Goodbyes
An addendum to the last addition of 2004. In "Goodbyes" I forgot to mention the demise of Shell Transport and Trading plc, due to be subsumed in a nil-premium takeover by Royal Dutch with not a peep from the genii in the City or our esteemed Government!

Well, you heard it here first: the bloodbath has started.

Woolworth's have announced disappointing trading for the Christmas period as have Next. In a masterful stroke of PR-speak Woollie's said that actually they couldn't flog the stuff no one wanted first time around even when heavily discounted. Miss and Ms shopper are obviously beginning to see that the wardrobe is full enough!

Laura Ashley are so pleased with their Xmas trading that they have sacked yet another boss (with a fat payoff, no doubt). The list of disappointments goes on: Marks & Spencer; Burberry; J. Sainsbury; Morrison's; and so on.

In addition, a number of low-end retailers have already gone to the wall. Interestingly, no mention from Philip Green about how his empire is doing - could it be that not all is so rosy? Certainly, to visit the BHS store near me is to enter a Space Devoid of People. Even the mighty (sic) Wal-Mart is now described in the press as "beleaguered".

So what next? Well, take it from me - more of the same only in spades (at least for some). The party is most definitely over - vacancy rates are increasing with prime sites becoming available up and down the land. Expect progressively worsening results from electricals, fashion and so on and more failures. Time to sell those property shares.

London Stock Exchange
Ardent watchers of this column will note that the writer often despairs that everything in UK plc is for sale. The New Year brings further examples of which the LSE is one (actually it started last year). It is undergoing a rather public and painful auction. But, interestingly, a number of heads are now suggesting that just maybe it’s not such a good idea for the LSE to be under the control of either Euronext or Deutsche Borse. I doubt if they will be heard by the quick buck merchants, nor by HMG.

As we all know, these are often not always good for the acquirer or acquiree. Bank of Ireland is mulling over whether to close their last remaining Bristol & West branches; and such a move would be hugely embarrassing but probably largely ignored since the error (to purchase) was made so long ago.

Aggregate Industries is the latest UK plc to fall to foreign control with Holcim snapping them up. Admittedly, there is a while to go but no one seems to be fighting their corner. Come on, Hanson - how about it?

MmO2 - or O2 as it will soon be known - remains a takeover candidate according to the City. Depressingly, weekend comment suggested that the shares were a hold in anticipation of a take over by some deep-pocketed foreign Telco. No mention however, of their taking over anyone – the City doesn’t like such deals as a sale is so much easier. Still, if and when the offer finally comes you can expect an early capitulation as share options now mean that management is unworried about losing their position. The takeover invariably means instant riches beyond their wildest dreams.

Next week (January 24, 2005) sees the EGM of this once proud firm. Shareholders are expected to rubberstamp a takeover by JP Morgan (first a joint venture and then 5 years later a full-takeover). Quite why the take-over is necessary has never been properly explained. Other than as a quick way for shareholders to cash in.

Now where have we seen that before?

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