Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.
Many of us spent the weekend chewing over the early manoeuvres of what would have been one of the largest corporate deals ever, but by Sunday evening Kraft Heinz declared it was “amicably” walking away from its audacious bid to scoop up Unilever.
In just 48 hours, a $140bn (£113bn) deal dipped its toe in the water before disappearing into the night. Advisers were salivating over a five per cent fee; Unilever was preparing a full defensive strategy; and political opposition to the embryonic deal was growing. Labour’s reaction was predictable.
Newly promoted shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, used news of Kraft’s approach to put out a statement attacking the “failing Tory government” for overseeing “mismanagement and uncertainty” (what this had to do with the takeover deal was unclear) but she also said the proposed deal “makes the need for a proper industrial strategy all the more important”.
On this particular point she may have come close to the Prime Minister’s own thinking. May has said that she would have blocked Kraft’s 2010 takeover of Cadbury’s and has said that government should have more of a say in foreign takeovers.
It is understood that May had instructed officials to scrutinise a potential Kraft-Unilever deal and that the government hurriedly arranged conversations with 3G Capital, the Brazilian private equity owners of Kraft Heinz.
With news that the mega-deal has been abandoned, May’s government has dodged a bullet. As it happens, opposition to the deal from Unilever management (and, it would seem, shareholders) was such that the deal might never have reached May’s desk.
And yet despite having been called off, the weekend’s excitement pulled May’s industrial strategy back into the spotlight.
A weak sterling makes UK plc attractive (or depending on your point of view, vulnerable) to takeover bids. Kraft is clearly in an acquisitive mood – the Trump bump puts them in a position of strength – and this is unlikely to be the last time they take out their wallet.
On this occasion, a fundamental mismatch between the strategies and culture of Kraft and Unilever appears to have done for the deal without the need for the government to weigh in.
This is one battle that May won’t have to fight – but there will be more to come.