Blind confidence or savvy foresight?

The queue outside Startups’ local M&S was stretching half way down the high street at 8.30am this morning. In what’s arguably one part birthday celebration, four parts marketing bonanza, Britain’s best loved retailer is selling two million items in exchange for just a penny a product. Whether any of the chosen two million items are worth buying is thus far beyond my knowledge – I have no intention of fighting my way past the blue-rinse brigade to find out – but it’s certainly gone some way to deflecting attention away from the store’s 40% profit dip announced yesterday.

It’s a significant figure and one that boss Stuart Rose must surely be contemplating hard despite his public confidence. At last month’s IOD convention he told delegates that while times may be tough it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture and avoid getting swept up in the economic scaremongering.

“We’re 125 years old this year,” he said. “We’ve been through the Zulu War, the Boer war, the First World War, the Depression, the Second World War, the Korean war, good times and bad times. Fine it’s a bit tough at the moment but you can be sure it’ll be better tomorrow morning or the week after or the year after.”

He’s not the only one pushing the ‘don’t fret, it’ll be over in a jiffy’ dogma this week. In an interview with The Times, Alistair Darling reiterated his prediction that the downturn would be over by Christmas despite yesterday’s announcement of a fall in the Retail Prices Index. “I delivered my Budget statement four weeks ago . . . None of the figures I have seen since would change the projections that I have made,” he told the paper.

While the confidence of both men does seem unwavering, I’m more inclined to go with Rose’s assessment. His company has after all survived the Zulu War, while consumer confidence in what Darling’s selling is plummeting far more quickly than the rate of inflation. But I’ll reserve final judgement until the 1p tags go back in the store room at Marks and Sparks.

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