Outlook: Somerfield

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The Independent Online
DAVID SIMONS, the Somerfield chief executive, is starting to look like the boy at the ball with more self-confidence than his looks might justify. Having been blanked by all the likely partners at the first go, he is now going round the hall again, hoping someone will take his arm. Hence news that Mr Simons is trying to cosy up to Safeway once more after several years of polite but firm refusal.

Safeway has its own problems and probably needs a deal as much as Somerfield, but it is not quite that desperate. It took one look at Somerfield's grim store portfolio and the nightmare that is Kwik Save, and decided that it would be better to fight on alone than involve itself with such a mess.

On the other hand, Somerfield really is desperate. The early promise of the Kwik Save merger last year has turned out to be a mirage, and the shares are falling just as Mr Simons' share options have become exercisable. Somerfield was struggling even before the Asda-Wal- Mart deal, and as rivals such as Tesco and Sainsbury's respond, Mr Simons finds himself more and more out on a limb. Somerfield's place in the new order is as hard to see for the City as it plainly is for Mr Simons. It was hoped that the merger with Somerfield would reverse years of growing marginalisation for Kwik Save. That looks less likely by the day.