Clearly it has been a torrid time for retail. Squeezed household incomes, business rates, upward-only rent reviews and the march of online disrupters all play a destructive role.
But, without being too cruel, some of the firms in most difficulty – Carpetright, Moss Bros and Mothercare – look hopelessly out of fashion.
Kingfisher is struggling because Britain’s do-it-yourself culture is under pressure, but it is applying heavy layers of polyfilla with the development of trade brand Screwfix.
The sick list is extensive, with Maplin running down, Toys R Us a wreck, and New Look and House of Fraser hanging on.
Shop on: With more people in work consumer spending power has been robust and retail sales have continued to rise if at unexciting levels
But it was always thus and the continued outperformance of Continental interlopers such as Zara owner Inditex, Aldi, Lidl and Tiger shows it is possible to be challenging, with the right products and pricing.
There is good reason to think that the game is far from up. The current bout of merger activity among shopping centre owners suggests unrecognised value. Hammerson’s nuptials with Trafford Centre owner Intu are being interrupted by a good offer by French rival Klepierre.
Newriver is a UK-quoted property outfit which sees the regions as a great opportunity.
This week it signed up with Basingstoke to develop 500,000 square feet of leisure space, of which 40 per cent is earmarked for designer outlet shopping. Pioneered by developer Allan Lockhart, it is pursuing similar projects across the nation.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis British employees showed great flexibility on work patterns and exercised pay restraint preferring to be in work than on the dole.
Devaluation, which followed the 2016 referendum, sent consumer price inflation soaring at a moment when average wage increases were modest.
This led to loud cries about a squeeze on household incomes from critics.
The reality is, with more people in work, consumer spending power has been robust and retail sales have continued to rise, if at unexciting levels. There are signs now that the tectonic plates are shifting.
Inflation is coming down with consumer prices rising at 2.7 per cent. But average wages in the private sector are up to 3 per cent. With more in work the upward pressure will continue.
In the public sector Chancellor Philip Hammond is following through with his pledge about NHS pay.
These factors should raise consumer confidence and spending, signalling better times for retailers with the right mix of digital and stores.
Underperforming retailers will have no choice but to blame weather.
It has always been thus.
GKN doubles down
A Pity customers do not have a vote in hostile takeovers. If so, GKN would be winning hands down.
After an endorsement from Airbus, GKN’s favoured automotive merger partner, Dana, has drummed up similarly robust backing from global tractor maker Agco. Its brands include Massey Ferguson and Challenger, with sales of £6.5billion per annum.
It supports the Dana-GKN deal on the grounds that equipment manufacturers require ‘suppliers with a proven track record’ and engineering support.
GKN isn’t in the business of driveline for heavy vehicles, nevertheless the Agco statement does point to the downside of slicing, dicing and selling bits of a supply chain.
One suspects investors would be more impressed if GKN could cajole Toyota or Ford into making a similar noises.
GKN’s ageless chief executive Anne Stevens is in fine voice, charging that Melrose is a ‘high-risk’ choice, underlining the fact that Melrose’s £8.1billion offer undervalues the company. Indeed, recent overseas bids for FTSE firms have been at larger premiums.
The weakness in the tit-for-tat rhetoric is that hedge funds hold as much as 20 per cent of the register and don’t care about industrial arguments. Their goal is a quick turn.
That is why, after Cadbury lost out to Kraft, its former chairman Sir Roger Carr suggested that only investors with six months’ ownership to their name should get a vote. Time to revive his proposal.
A suggestion to abolish the 1p and 2p coins was a mini-pasty tax moment.
Former top Treasury mandarin Sir Nick Macpherson, in the Evening Standard, smartly notes that even after several devaluations the pound is still the most valuable currency in the Western world.
Removing the lowest denominations would diminish its ‘coherence’.