Insider Trading: M&S Boss Comes Up Smelling of Roses

13 July 2004

Stuart Rose, chief executive of beleaguered retail giant Marks & Spencer, was on Friday absolved by the UK Financial Services Authority of insider share dealing during the days preceding the first bid for M&S by Monaco-based tax exile Philip Green.

Good news for M&S (paradoxically, Green too) as neither side could afford to be embroiled in a long running scandal that might have culminated in criminal proceedings.

That little unpleasantness now out of the way, Rose can focus on M&S's defence strategy which he outlined Friday to the press. Its showpiece is a plan to return £2.3 billion ($427bn; €3.44bn) to M&S shareholders. Other planks of the strategy are …

• A renewed "focus on customers" with the specific aim of reinvigorating sagging sales.

• The sale to HSBC bank of M&S' financial services business, expected to realise £762m.

• The purchase from fashion entrepreneur George Davis for £125m of his Per Una clothing brand (which many observers had previously assumed to be M&S property).

• And (no surprises here), the inevitable cost cuts, including store closures, which Rose expects will trim £320m from overheads by 2006-07.

Said Rose, who hopes his package will persuade institutional shareholders not to take Green's gelt: "Today's announcement sees us refocusing on our core retail activities with an emphasis on delivering great product for our 25 million customers."

He continued: "The business has substantial further trading potential, which will be unlocked through a return to the core values of quality, value, service, innovation and trust."

BBC business editor Jeff Randall was not overly impressed. The strategic plan contained few surprises and had been "widely expected" by many analysts. Dismissing it as little more than "good housekeeping, he said: "I can't see a really big rabbit in the hat."

[Randall is hard to please. Most shareholders -- a breed much battered over the past four years -- would be euphoric if "good housekeeping" in the shape of a £2.3bn cashback became fashionable.]

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff