Outlook: Retail Frankenstein rises from slab

SO KINGFISHER is going to bag Asda after all. Like other big deals before it, the Kingfisher-Asda deal hardly set the investment community alight when it was first revealed last month. Asda shareholders moaned about the measly terms while Kingfisher's shares fell off a cliff as fund managers wrestled with the questionable commercial logic of it all.

At first, Asda's shares traded at a significant premium to the see-through value of the Kingfisher all share takeover, sorry, merger. This was because the market had got itself into a frenzy over the possibility of rival bids emerging. WalMart must come in, surely. Or Carrefour. Someone. Anyone. This has become a rather familiar story with these mega mergers. Exactly the same thing happened with both the BTR/Siebe and Zeneca/Astra mergers. In neither case did any rival emerge with more tempting terms, and it doesn't look like happening this time round either.

As the days drifted by, the well-oiled Kingfisher machine ground into action. Kingfisher added Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse First Boston to its main adviser, SBC Warburg. All this on top of Merrill Lynch and Cazenove for Asda. So many are now earning a fee from this misconceived merger that it is no wonder the grumbling has died away.

Some major Asda shareholders are still unhappy. They say the terms of the deal are poor and that they might, just might, kick up rough. But don't hold your breath. When push comes to shove, institutional shareholders seem quite incapable of turning words into action.

The steady rise in the Kingfisher share price in recent weeks, dragging Asda higher with it, has helped the Kingfisher cause. Kingfisher's share dropped to little more than 700p late last month. Yesterday they stood at 827.5p, making the deal look better all round.

The seemingly endless round of shareholder presentations, wining and dining and general schmoozing, has also succeeded in persuading investors that the industrial logic of this deal is not as bad as it seemed. With shareholder opposition sliding away and few competition issues to worry about, it looks as though the Sir Geoff Mulcahy-Allan Leighton behemoth will be lumbering onto a high street near you after all. As for the advisers, they are no doubt already looking forward to the fees they'll eventually earn from dismantling the Frankenstein they are helping to create.

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