Nov 22, 2021
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M&S shares rise on bid target rumour despite CEO exit speculation

Nov 22, 2021

Speculation is buzzing around M&S at present with hints that CEO Steve Rowe may step down within the next couple of years and even that the company could be a bid target.


M&S shares rose on Monday — having already risen after an impressive results release earlier in November — on a report that private equity giant Apollo Global Management has been looking at the firm.

The Sunday Times had reported (based on speaking to “city sources”) that Apollo sees M&S as a bargain, despite its shares now being priced at almost triple the price they fetched at the height of the stock market crash in March 2020.

Yet the share price remains at a relatively low level as the firm’s turnaround has taken a long time and the low price meant the  company fell out of the prestigious FTSE100 Index that it had been a part of since the index’s inception. Even after the recent rise, the shares at today’s £2.47 each are well below the high of almost £7 they reached in 2007 and the firm’s current market value is ‘only’ £4.86 billion.

Apollo reportedly believes the shares remain below their true market value due to investors shunning M&S over concerns around the impact of the pandemic and also that they’re undervaluing its 50% stake in online grocery giant Ocado’s retail division.

However, the newspaper didn’t specify exactly when Apollo had looked at M&S and whether the 33% share price rise of the past few weeks might have dampened its enthusiasm.

Meanwhile The Times on Monday also said the retailer is preparing for Steve Rowe to step down as CEO. Not that his departure is imminent with the change in leadership to happen “within the next 18 months”.

It said senior figures at the firm know that Rowe believes CEOs “typically have a tenure of between five and eight years”. Fifty-four-year-old Rowe has actually worked at the company since starting with a Saturday job aged 15 but has been chief executive since 2016.

He had a huge challenge back then as the firm was saddled with an oversized store estate and clothing operations that were under-performing. Rowe has since boosted the fashion business, shut stores, ramped up investment in its online ops and gone into partnership with Ocado for online groceries. Investors seem happy as the share price has risen 83% this year.

Rowe took on the leadership role after a long period of assessment identified the long-time M&S insider as the best person for the job. It was something of a risk at the time as there was some scepticism whether someone who had worked at the company during its long decline would have the fresh vision to turn it around. But given that the company had shipped in a number of star CEOs from outside who hadn't been able to turn it around, the risk was perhaps smaller than some believed and clearly, it was the right choice.

The report also said that an insider is likely to be the next CEO with candidates including co-COOs Katie Bickerstaffe and Stuart Machin, and CFO Eoin Tonge being prepared for a potential step up.

None of the parties mentioned have confirmed any of this, of course, so it looks like we’ll have to wait until M&S is ready to share any updates.

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