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Under The Radar – 14 January

This week, we discuss:

  1. Has France Left it too late?

  2. Private equity seeks medical help

  3. Channel 5’s alive

Has France Left it too late?

What Happened? It is increasingly likely that no Leftist candidate will qualify for the second stage of the French election, as far right favourite, Eric Zemmour, may also fall foul with a lack of support from local officials.

What does it mean? The French left can’t seem to get going for 2022. Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist party pick and current mayor of Paris, has called for the left to unify under one candidate. Off the back of a strong showing in the last election, Jean-Luc Melenchon is currently best placed to challenge but he faces a steep path to power with an inflated roster of candidates diluting the left vote. The serious threats to President Macron’s second term come in the form of his old nemesis, and far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, centre-right Valérie Pécresse, and anti-immigration candidate Eric Zemmour. Macron is polling far ahead of his rivals on the first round of voting at 27%, with Le Pen in second at 17.5%. Nevertheless, a second term is not a shoe-in. Zemmour, a former TV pundit, generated an early flurry of media activity in which he was depicted as a potential frontrunner. Now he may not even qualify for the election due to a lack of support from local officials with France’s political system controversially requiring 500 ‘endorsements’ from officials to take part. Other candidates, such as Hidalgo, will likely qualify instead despite Zemmour polling far ahead. Le Pen would be the obvious beneficiary if Zemmour were to be squeezed out at this stage. Yet even a united far right vote would be unlikely to propel Le Pen to the Elysée Palace and without a single challenger from the left, Macron remains the firm favourite.

Private equity seeks medical help

What happened? Two of the world’s largest private equity firms, Bain Capital and CVC Capital Partners, are teaming up for a potential multi-billion pound takeover of Boots, which is expected to be sold by its US owner this year. What does it mean?

Rumours are swirling that Boots, the UK’s largest drugstore chain, will be put up for auction this spring by its US owners, the Walgreens Boots Alliance. A sale would represent one of the biggest UK retail deals in years, with price estimates ranging from £5b to £12bn. Bain Capital is understood to have buddied up with UK-based CVS Capital on a joint bid to take over the retail giant, owner of more than 2,000 outlets and employing more than 55,000 staff. Both firms have invested heavily in prominent British businesses such as the bakery chain Gail’s, Debenhams and the RAC. Bain Capital and CVC will stiff face competition for the takeover following Boot’s parent company announcing robust trading figures just last week. Other large private equity firms, including Apollo Global Management and Fortress Investment Group – who both missed out on the buyout of Morrisons last year – are also expected to consider a bid for the chain. Given the weighty names linked to the takeover, a bidding war involving some hefty fees appears imminent. Institutions like Boots don’t come on the market every day. Yet a fast-changing consumer environment is thought to be fuelling a rush on investment in British retail assets, with owners being forced to sell up or seek new funds. If this trend continues, Boots may be just one of many permanent residents of the British high street up for sale in the coming months.

Chanel 5’s alive

What happened?

Channel 5 is on track to report record profits for 2021, following a boom in advertising revenues for the broadcaster during the pandemic.

What does it mean?

After a predictably difficult 2020, Channel 5 has bounced back in a big way this past year with the network expecting to generate profits in excess of £60m. The much-maligned broadcaster also saw a 17% increase in primetime viewing thanks to the success of shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and Our Yorkshire Farm. This comes as a timely boost to Channel 5 after its head of programming, Ben Frow, made headlines last week for dismissing government warnings that public service broadcasters should be making more “distinctively British” programming to combat the growth of international streaming services. While streaming giants such as Netflix and Disney+ were enjoying record-setting subscriber growth during the pandemic, TV advertising spend in the UK plunged at an alarming rate. But in May last year, industry heavyweights were already calling the end of the pandemic for broadcasters and the numbers now back them up. The current UK TV ad market boom appears to be all-encompassing with Channel 4 forecasting revenues to exceed £1 billion in 2021 and ITV set to bank £2.3 billion in external revenues. National lockdowns showcased the vulnerability of the UK’s ad-dependent broadcasters but with programme makers now seemingly in the clear from Covid disruption, the rapid recovery of the TV ad market shows there’s life in the old dog yet.

This week’s must reads:

  1. “Boris Johnson’s shambolic government is doing the SNP’s job for them” by Alyn Smith for The Times

  2. “Now Prince Andrew is facing trial, the palace must find a way to ‘de-royal’ him” by David McClure for The Guardian

  3. “Is it over?” by James Forsyth for The Spectator

  4. “Novak Djokovic and why the world is turning on anti-vaxxers” by Megan Gibson for The New Statesman

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