Five fantasy deals to hope for this year

From Amazon buying John Lewis to Warren Buffet taking on Unilever, these fantasy deals, mergers and acquisitions would improve the companies involved.

Marks & Spencer at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre on 17th November 2023 in London, United Kingdom. Stratford is now East Londons primary retail, cultural and leisure centre. It has also become the second most significant business location in the east of the capital. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
(Image credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty Images)

1. Tesco buys Carrefour
With its shares up 30% in 2023, the British supermarket has staged a comeback from the wobbles of the past decade. It has solidified its iron grip on the British grocery market, restored profitability and started paying generous dividends again. With rivals such as Asda and Morrisons owned by private equity firms overloaded with debt, its position is more secure than ever. By contrast, France’s giant Carrefour is far less healthy. Its shares are at only half the level they were ten years ago, and it has already been targeted in a takeover bid. Tesco could turn it around, and together they would create a European powerhouse. The French government probably wouldn’t allow it, but it would be a great deal.

2. M&S buys Boots
It has been clear for years that Walgreens is desperate to offload the pharmacy chain it took final control of in 2014. Boots has weighed its owner down with too much debt, and returns have been dismal. Walgreens has tried to sell the chain, and more recently has been examining a listing in London. But what about selling to M&S instead? The food and grocery chain has been brilliantly turned around under the savvy management of CEO Stuart Machin and even rejoined the FTSE 100. It could give Boots’ stores a new lease of life, and there would be synergies between the two to exploit. A merger of Marks and Boots would create a middle England powerhouse.

3. Amazon buys John Lewis
The UK’s favourite department store is struggling. John Lewis lost £59m in the first six months of last year, it said its turnaround plan would take two years more than thought, and its chair, Sharon White, decided to step down early. And with online retailing still growing, it is hard to see a great future for its big, old-fashioned department stores, even if most of its main rivals have disappeared. And yet, as it looks to end its partnership model, and bring in outside shareholders for the first time, it would surely be a perfect fit for Amazon. Waitrose would fit naturally into the Whole Foods chain it already owns in the US; the department stores would be a great click ’n’ collect outlet, as well as a showcase for the wider Amazon range.

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There would be howls of outrage. Amazon’s rapaciously capitalist way of working is very different from that of the employee-owned chain. But John Lewis could learn to be a bit more ruthless, and Amazon could learn to be a bit more caring. It would be a great match.

4. Buffett takes control of Unilever
Unilever’s new chief executive Hein Schumacher has made a great start clearing out the clutter at the sprawling consumer goods conglomerate. But its performance has been dismal for many years and it will take a long time to turn that around. Success will depend upon supportive shareholders. Enter Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by Warren Buffett. Back in 2017, Buffett was involved in an offer for Unilever from Heinz-Kraft, and there is no reason to think he is not still interested. With lots of valuable brands and scope for improved performance, it is just the kind of opportunity he has made a success of over his career. The sage of Omaha may have one big deal left in him.

5. Jim Ratcliffe buys Jaguar Land Rover
Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s leading car maker, has had a decent year, but there is little question it has struggled under the ownership of Indian conglomerate Tata. It needs to invest huge sums to transition to electric vehicles. 

Meanwhile, the Ineos billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has finally acquired Manchester United FC and has already dabbled in the car business with the launch of the Grenadier range of 4x4s. On a roll, he could take over JLR next, and put in the money needed to make it a serious contender to the luxury German carmakers. Together with Manchester United, it would make quite a collection of heritage brands – and restoring both of them to their former glory would be a fantastic legacy to close out a brilliant career.

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Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years. 

He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.