22 August 2008


On the 1st September Stephen Johnson, the former boss of Focus DIY is due to join the board of Woolworths Group plc in the hope of turning around a business that despite nearly £3 billion of turnover makes hardly any profit.

Johnson’s job as Cheif Executive of Woolworths Group plc will not be made any easier with the cheeky offer for the company’s retail division by one of the great talents of retailing Malcolm Walker looming over him. Johnson’s task will be made harder still by the fact that the approach by Walker has the backing of Woolworth’s largest shareholder Bauger Group who appears to be making a habit of investing in ailing UK retailers.

There is also speculation that Aredeshir Naghsineh property tycoon and developer will join the Walker consortium to carve up Woolworths 820 stores. Ardeshir Naghshineh founded Targetfollow Property Holdings in the 90’s and is now one of the largest privately owned property investment companies in the UK. Naghshineh, who already owns 10.2% of Woolworths, may well be interested in strategically picking up some of stores, or lending Walker some of his undoubted property expertise.

Others are not so sure that Aredeshir Naghsineh, via his company Targetfellow, is part of the current consortium believing instead that Bauger Group and Walker want to go it alone. The fact that Walker, together with Bauger Group, made their bid just days after speculation that Naghsineh was rapidly increasing his stake in Woolies adds weight to this argument. Nevertheless, the reality of the situation is that there are obvious synergies between Woolworth’s retail and the commercial interests of any Walker, Bauger and Naghsineh consortium.

It all seems a bit of a muddle at the moment and with low daily volume investors are sitting on their hands awaiting the outcome of the talks. As the 1st September looms ever closer, however, investors will be wondering whether the former Focus man Stephen Johnson will get the chance to "do it himself", or whether Walker et al will save him the trouble.

The outcome of the talks between the Walker consortium and the Woolworths board is expected before Stephen Johnson starts work on the f1st September 2008.

This morning the shares are marking time at 7.0p a piece.

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