CMA taps Oxford economics professor to assist Sainsbury’s-Asda probe

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Sainsbury's Asda

The UK’s peak competition watchdog is set to instruct Oxford University economics professor Howard Smith to assist with the review of the proposed merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda.

Smith is a member of the Competition and Market Authority’s academic panel and will work with its economist team during the probe of the £12 billion proposed mega merger.

Smith also has 1288 shares in Unilever, which supplies products to Sainsbury’s and Asda.

In a statement, the CMA said it did not consider his stake in Unilever would prevent Smith performing his role in the probe in an “independent and impartial manner”.

The news the latest development in the CMA’s investigation in the proposed merger.

In June, the CMA published a range of responses to the tie-up, which took in the views of rival supermarkets, wholesalers, suppliers and members of the public.

Some of the most common responses included the risk of higher prices and reduced choice for consumers, and fears that suppliers could get squeezed due to the merged entity’s increased buying power.

A month prior, the CMA had informed it was looking into the proposed deal and was in the “pre-notification” phase, which meant it was in the midst of gathering information before a formal inquiry could be launched.

The merger of the UK’s second and third largest supermarkets could topple Tesco’s longstanding reign as the UK’s biggest grocer my market share.

Sainsbury’s-Asda’s revenues could also reach £51 billion thanks to network of 2800 Sainsbury’s, Asda, Habitat, Argos and George stores.

When it was first announced at the end of April, Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said the tie-up would lead to £500 million in cost savings and further investment to lower prices by around 10 per cent on everyday items.

Coupe and Asda chief executive Roger Burnley also appeared before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for an intense grilling on the potential impacts of the merger.

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