For long-time Marks & Spencer watchers the retailer’s half-year results are lamentable. Food sales, which have defied gravity for many years, are down 2.9 per cent on a same-store basis and clothing and home revenues shrank 1.1 per cent.
A stores group that not so long ago achieved profits of over £1billion a year, under Sir Stuart Rose, managed just £126.7million in the first half.
But what is most depressing about this is the downbeat message coming from the top team of Archie Norman and Steve Rowe
By talking M&S down now chairman Archie Norman may be looking to boast of another recovery when returns improve
Norman prides himself on turnarounds he engineered at Asda and ITV.
By talking M&S down now he may be looking to boast of another recovery when returns improve. He may right when he talks of a corporate vanity which needs to be expunged.
But when management goes as far as to refer to M&S as a failing enterprise they are doing everyone involved a huge disservice.
Successful retailing is a little like showbusiness. Even in the current hostile retail environment it is not constructive to destroy the confidence of a loyal workforce, an army of dedicated private shareholders or scaring consumer and suppliers.
By putting so much emphasis on the negative Norman and Rowe risk alienating the millions of people across Britain who regard a visit to M&S as a rewarding experience.
The present store portfolio, 75 per cent of which has been around for 25 years or more, needs refreshing.
Some 100 stores have been earmarked for closure with more to come. But why so many? A previous chief executive assured me that even though there were under-performers every store was profitable.
Next, which Norman holds in high esteem, is opening not closing branches even though it is the first major UK fashion retailer to achieve 50 per cent of its sales online.
Instead of falling into bad habits of shrinking the footfall, challenging the goodwill of customers, M&S ought to be opening newer, stores to replace those shuttered. The top team is right to recognise that the older customer has different aspirations to a previous generation.
Most want more access to more modern, younger fashion. In making the adjustment there can be no sacrifice of M&S’s reputation for quality and service.
Innovation in food and freshness has been a key marker for M&S. Indeed, it has an open goal at present because of difficulties at rival Waitrose.
It should be shouting the odds of what it does well in fresh food from the rooftops.
M&S needs to be better online, more digital, speed up its supply chain and overhaul overlapping ranges. But it is not going to build a recovery by alienating customers with a retreat from the High Street and by undermining a workforce proud to be part of a special company.
The best way for big consumer advertisers to reach a large market in Britain is through ITV. For all the advances in pay-TV, streaming services and the rest this remains ITV’s main competitive advantage.
Chief executive Carolyn McCall is concerned that after a 2 per cent uplift in ad revenues in the first nine months, bolstered by the World Cup, commercials could subside in the current quarter as a result of continued uncertainty about the EU negotiations.
But what happens, if as expected, there is a deal in the next week?
Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated in his Budget speech there could be a double dividend in the shape of higher growth and the release of government funds earmarked for the contingency of the cliff edge.
Pent-up demand in the economy could be released and commercials could come flooding back.
Moreover, ITV is now protected from the vicissitudes of advertising market by its investment in productions. The markdown of its shares looks overdone.
Every new Goldman Sachs boss looks to be dealt a bad hand.
Past chairman Lloyd Blankfein had to wrestle with Goldman’s role in creating toxic sub-prime products.
New boss David Solomon says it is ‘very distressing’ that two former employees allegedly broke the law when their raised money for Malaysian fund 1MBD.
The idea that knowledge about the mechanics and rewards for such a large and rich fundraising were not shared further up the line is implausible.
This scandal has the capacity to hurt.