James Moore: Tesco's playing the blame game is not cricket when they can hit rivals for six

Outlook:A revived corps of rivals are eager to take back business Tesco once took away from them

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The Independent Online

If only the Jubilee came a bit earlier in the year, sighed Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke. We had a rip roaring week as patriotic shoppers poured into our stores to buy sausage rolls and cheep booze with which to toast Her Majesty. Those disappointing first-quarter figures would have looked so much better had they been included.

This, it appears, is what Tesco has been reduced to. It is standard practice for under performing chief executives the world over to throw their hands up into the air and complain of "events, dear boy, events". Thorntons, the chocolatier, used to be the master of the art, coming up with ever more creative excuses for its numerous profit warnings.

It is probably unfair to single Thorntons out, though. The Jubilee, and the impact of the extra bank holiday that came with it, is sure to feature prominently in the trading statements of any number of excuse hungry businesses for months to come.

But for Tesco to join in, it's just not, well, cricket is it. This, after all, is supposed to be the supermarket that ate Britain. The one retailer from these shores that has embarked on an overseas adventure and not subsequently come back home with its tail between its legs. We have come to expect rather better.

Not any more, it seems.

Tesco's problems have been discussed at length. The UK business has been needing attention for some time. Customers have taken leave of its dowdy stores in favour of a revived corps of rivals eager to snatch back some of the business Tesco once took away from them. If the Jubilee was good for Tesco how did they do? That's an interesting question.

Long term, Tesco still ought to be a winner. The grocer's size and financial firepower ought to allow the company to blow its rivals away, regardless of its current difficulties.

When he unveiled his plans for repairing the UK business by deploying some of that firepower to pep up the stores and hire more staff to make customers feel loved, Mr Clarke, pictured, warned his fix couldn't be quick in the current economic environment.

And it should be said that yesterday's trading statement wasn't all bad. The 1.5 per cent fall in sales at stores open at least a year was a teensy bit better than the 1.6 per cent fall in the previous quarter and a touch above the City's forecasts too.

Unfortunately, however, it's not just the UK business that needs some tlc. Fresh & Easy, Tesco's chain in the western part of the US, continues to disappoint, while the company's Chinese arm is hardly flying.

Financial firepower Tesco might have in abundance. But does it have the management to effectively utilise it? That's the question Mr Clarke has to answer. If he can't he'll just have to dispatch the headhunters in the direction of Thorntons excuses department.

Only a Greek exit from euro will alter landscape

Phew, said the markets and then engaged in a jolly Monday morning bounce thanks to Spain's little problem with its banks looking set to be fixed by way of a £100bn cash injection from the European Financial Stability Facility.

Goldman Sachs was even moved to call the bottom of the commodities markets, where prices have been in the doldrums for a while now, in anticipation that the Chinese train will start to pick up speed again. The latter's latest economic update was mixed, but hey, exports were up by more than the forecasters had predicted.

It took all of a couple of hours before reality started to bite. By lunchtime Citigroup had pointed out that Italy looks none too chipper while a fresh set of Greek elections are looming and Portugal and Cyprus are shuddering. We'll be here again in a matter of weeks, if not days, and the markets quickly cottoned on to that fact.

Portugal, Cyrpus, Italy too most likely, are all waiting in line. There will be a wobble from one of them first accompanied by predictions of doom from economists. The markets will tumble (again), prompting denials from whichever government is in the firing line followed by defeat and finally acceptance that another cash injection will be required combined with another bout of squabbling over the conditions.

And so it will continue unless and until a deal is done in which Germany agrees to open the purse strings in return for the stricken economies on Europe's fringes taking some really nasty medicine, involving them surrendering a big chunk of their repsective sovereignties. But it might just take the chaos of a Greek exit from the euro to concentrate minds to the required extent for that to happen.

Laura Ashley confident of prosperous 2012

Yesterday Laura Ashley, the fashion-to-home-furnishing chain, defied the downturn and the April downpour to deliver a sharp rise in sales over the last 18 weeks.

The company also, bravely, predicted its recent buoyant growth will continue throughout the rest of the year.

Is it worth noting here that the comparable period last year was pretty good as well?

Laura Ashley operates in a quite different sector of the market to Tesco but it's barnstorming performance shows it is still possible to win even when the outlook is rather difficult.

The answer for Tesco, and for every other consumer facing business out there, is that when the economic backdrop is challenging the best thing for executives to do is to justify their outsized pay packages by rising to it.