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15 November 2017, 12:56 | Austin Hogan
Tesco PLC's (LON:TSCO) £3.7bn takeover bid for food wholesale operator Booker Group PLC (LON:BOK) has been provisionally cleared by the United Kingdom competition watchdog. The regulator asserted the United Kingdom wholesale market would "remain competitive in the longer term", noting Booker's share of the United Kingdom grocery wholesaling market - at less than 20% - was "not sufficient to justify the longer-term concerns".
The provisional unconditional clearance will come as a major relief to Tesco. The wholesale trade in particular will be wondering why on earth it ever bothered engaging at all with the CMA, an organisation that seemingly lives in a different universe to anything that may be considered a normal view of the world.
Mr Monteyne said: "With a higher shareholder hurdle and the Tesco share price below the level of when the bid was made - around £2 - Booker shareholders may argue for a higher share price".
Bernstein analysts said they expect some uncertainty to remain, with the focus shifting to whether investors will approve the deal.
The regulator denied concerns by wholesalers and symbol groups that the deal would give Tesco the ability to harm its rivals through its newly acquired wholesale arm. They argued that as a result, in the longer term, Booker might be able to raise prices to the shops that it supplies.
The CMA found that Tesco as a retailer and Booker as a wholesaler, supplying to caterers, independent and symbol group retailers, did not compete head-to-head in most of their activities.
On May 31 the authority said that it would investigate Tesco's proposed 3.7 billion-pound ($4.3 billion) cash-and-stock offer for Booker.
"Our investigation has found that existing competition is sufficiently strong in both the wholesale and retail grocery sectors to ensure that the merger between Tesco and Booker will not lead to higher prices or a reduced service for supermarket and convenience shoppers", Simon Polito, chair of the regulator's inquiry group, said Tuesday.
The CMA is now inviting further comment and evidence before making its final decision by the end of December.
"My only concern would be for local suppliers that supply Bookers, will Tesco dictate what price they are willing to pay for their goods and squeeze their margins even more", says Patel. An open letter by rival wholesalers said this will: "Present independent retailers with a stark choice: Join a Booker/Tesco symbol or go out of business".
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