Making sense of the past seven days
Retail Week was itself the biggest story of the past seven days - or at least, the Retail Week Conference was.

That's where, on Wednesday at about 5.10pm, Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose took to the stage for a question and answer session. His comments about Sainsbury's prompted a blizzard of press coverage and precipitated a Stock Exchange announcement ruling out a bid for the grocer, unless Sainsbury's receives a formal offer in the meantime from the private equity consortium or in other specific circumstances.

In the cold light of day, Rose's advice to the conference to 'watch this space' regarding Sainsbury's would not seem to add much knowledge about how likely the prospect of Marks & Sainsbury's is.

There had been speculation for weeks about the possibility of an M&S move. Anyone with a passing interest in retail would have assumed that M&S would at least consider the merits of entering the fray, since a deal such as Sainsbury's would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Rose's answer merely confirmed what the whole industry and the City were taking for granted.

An honest but inconclusive answer became a regulatory issue. Apparently, candour from business leaders is now something to frowned upon.

The real message from the Retail Week Conference was not about journalistic sensationalism, nor about revelations that merit Stock Exchange announcements, but about the ridiculousness of a regulatory system that makes straightforward statements in public a punishable offence.

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