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Blow to Walmart as regulator warns at Asda-Sainsbury's tie-up



Sainsbury's attempt to merge with Walmart-owned Asda will never end well after the retail giants took the British regulator to court before deciding on the bond itself.

On Wednesday, the Norwegian Competition Authority took its revenge in a major blow to what would have created the UK's largest supermarket chain in a merger of NOK 12 billion.

"CMA has so far found extensive competition problems as part of the thorough investigation," it regularly said in a statement.

This decision sent shares of J. Sainsbury PLC

SBRY, -16.33%

tumbling 1

5.14%, with the future of the agreement hanging in the balance.

The preliminary decision, which has been beaten by someone not in contact with the changing store landscape, suggests that the merger would either be blocked or conditional on the sale of a significant number of stores, or one of the brands.

Asda, purchased in 1999 by Walmart Inc.

WMT, -2.43%

and Sainsbury said in a statement, "These findings basically understand how people shop in the UK today," with Sainsbury's CEO, Mike Coupe, and added in a radio interview: "[The CMA] has fundamentally moved the goal posts, changed the shape of the ball and selected another game room."

Britain's second and third largest merchants had seen a connection in response to threats from online giant Amazon Inc.

AMZN, + 0.30%

and less competing Ocado Group PLC

OCDO,

+ 0.47%

OCDDY, + 4.29%

and discounters Lidl and Aldi.

Food retailers have struggled when seismic shifts have failed through the sector in recent years.

Older chains face fierce competition from discounters and have been harmed by changing shopping habits.

High Street used to be dominated by four major players, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Wm. Morrisons Supermarkets PLC

MRW, -5.31%

and buyers used to buy supplies in a main supermarket tour. But weekly stores have been replaced by buyers who make more visits to smaller convenience stores, as customers in the wake of the financial crisis are seeking to save money and create less waste.

Buyers with smaller neighborhood stores, such as the Co-op, have found themselves better placed than many of the older chains that stuck with their large supermarket tracks and fewer buyers.

Consolidation was seen as a way to help these chains cut costs, mainly at the back office, making these stores economically viable and keeping prices down.

But the regulator did not see it this way, which caused critics to conclude, it stands firm with an outdated view of the market.

"While we need to see if Sainsbury and Asda can argue and challenge CMA's findings, the deal is challenging itself to have a fatal blow," Clive Black, an analyst at broker Shore Capital, wrote in a note. [19659002]

Sainsbury and Asda will further argue for the defense that there has also been a major shift towards buyers who bought their groceries online.

This is an area where Amazon

AMZN, + 0.30%

trying to get scale, and Ocado, who has no stores, is a strong player. These are both rivals with a scale that Sainsbury and Asda can claim represent a healthy competition. The couple have also suffered from customers who go to outdoor chains Aldi and Lidl, which offer less variety, but cheaper products.

The duo will attempt to argue for this more fragmented market showing that the dominance of older players is decreasing.

The big four merchants now control just over two-thirds of the grocery market, according to the market research firm Kantar.

In its statement, the CMA said that it was concerned that Asda-Sainsbury's relationship could lead to failing competition, driving higher prices, damaging the shopping experience, and reducing the range and quality of products offered. And some commentators have said that the decision is good for consumers.

The relationship between Sainsbury and Asda and CMA has not been helped after a court decided that the CMA had acted unfairly in not allowing merchants more time to respond to evidence presented as part of this investigation.

The CMA process is now going through a consultation process, and Sainsbury has promised to fight with its merger which would have seen it keep both brands benefiting from buying savings.

The slip, which was agreed in April last year, would have seen the combo box take over Tesco


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