For a while it looked like Boots would be a tasty bone fought over by rival suitors and ultimately snapped up for a decent, if still rather low price. UK plc has been in the spotlight over the last couple of years as investors sought to cash in on post Brexit lows.
But inflation has turned up the volume on whispers that recession is on the cards and lately they’ve become too loud for financial markets to ignore. How safe a bet is an investment in the UK retail sector when consumers are tightening their belts and competition is becoming ever more cutthroat.
Danni Hewson, AJ Bell financial analyst, comments on failed plans to sell Boots: “To be fair, the price that Walgreens was asking was pretty steep for a business that feels like it’s lost its way. Many of the stores are tired, in need of some serious TLC and a touch of some kind of magic that would give them a new lease of life, a new appointment to shop. There were obvious opportunities to be had particularly in the wake of the pandemic which has made people more aware than ever of the need for a healthy lifestyle and created opportunity to provide services that would complement an embattled NHS.
“Then there are those little travel jewels, stores in airports and train stations that have suddenly become hives of activity with the former becoming a lifeline for holidaymakers who’ve forgotten how to pack in a way that gets them through security. Just looking at the overflowing bins at Manchester airport recently it was pretty clear the next stop for many travellers would be to snap up those travel essentials that didn’t make it into the small, clear plastic bags.
“But turning the high street veteran around wasn’t going to be easy. Online pharmacies are becoming more and more popular, social media starlets are nabbing market share in the make-up sector and city centre hubs are still struggling for footfall as offices remain only partly occupied.
“There had been speculation at one point that failure to do a deal might result in Boots retuning to public ownership but the current volatility in markets seems to have taken that option off the table at least for now. Walgreen’s Boots Alliance has made all the right noises today but crucially it’s also said it will remain open to future opportunities. It might have taken down the for sale sign but the u-turn will be an uncomfortable one, it’s hard to move forward when you’ve already mentally handed over the keys.”