MAGGIE PAGANO: John Lewis boss Sir Charlie Mayfield is candid about the challenges he and the industry face

Struggle: John Lewis reports results that are likely to be almost zero & # 39; make profit

On Thursday, the John Lewis Partnership will report half-year results to July, which is likely to show revenues of nearly £ 5 billion.

This is an extraordinary course of action from the most successful and respected retailers in Great Britain and once again demonstrates the enormity of the problems that retailers face in the High Street.

The reasons for the problems in the industry are well rehearsed and multiple.

Struggle: John Lewis reports results that are likely to be almost zero & # 39; make profit

Struggle: John Lewis reports results that are likely to be almost zero & # 39; make profit

They include the rapid growth of online stores, criminal business rates, ridiculous planning laws, tight consumer spending, price deflation and, in some cases, lousy management. Together these have transformed the retail landscape beyond recognition and will continue to do so.

In the case of John Lewis, the problems are directly due to the fact that the profit margins are heavily discounted to keep the promise of price alignment with that of the imitated competitors such as House of Fraser.

This comes at a price. Analysts fear that the discounting could cost the group up to £ 20 million compared to the pre-tax profit of £ 26.6 million last year. It has also invested heavily in new IT systems to stay ahead.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of JLP, is boldly candid about the challenges facing him and the industry. As he points out, retail profitability has almost halved in the last five years and there are no signs that this will improve. And the reason? Margins have been shot in pieces.

Price inflation has been absorbed by retailers, with retail prices falling by 5.6 percent between April 2013 and July this year. That is great for the consumer, but not so good for the industry or for jobs.

Simply put, there is more retail space and capacity than there is demand. And much of that capacity comes from the increasing volume of online deliveries coming from warehouses in Amazon.

Yet Mayfield rejects some form of Amazon tax, which was directed by the Federal Chancellor, Philip Hammond, in response to lobbying for a more level playing field between online and physical retailers.

Mayfield makes an interesting point. Such a tax will have to be carefully designed because it can be counterproductive to penalize retailers such as Amazon, or even domestic operators such as Asos, for having an efficient business model.

It should also be taken into account that physical retailers such as JLP are expanding their own online presence. Beware of the law of unintended consequences.

Instead, Mayfield states that it would be much better to prevent online retailers from lowering their tax accounts by not paying the staff properly.

It is common knowledge that many of them avoid tax by including hours of hours in contracts of zero hours or low wages.

As he says, this is just as much a matter of morality as competition. Again, he is on the money. The truth is that no one, especially the bureaucrats of Whitehall, has an idea what the High Street will look like next year, let alone in five years.

What is certain is that the entire tax structure – not just the rights and injustice of business tariffs – needs to be revised from scratch.

Who better to give a review than Sir Charles himself?

Penny behind the wheel

Who said that there could never be a female James Bond?

Penny Hughes may not have a leading role in the next 007 film, but she will be in charge in Aston Martin.

The former Coca-Cola director is the new chairman of Bond's favorite car manufacturer, which plans to float on the London Stock Exchange later this fall.

If early price tags of around £ 5 billion are correct, Aston Martin zooms directly into the fastlane at the top of the FTSE 250.

It has been one of the city's most sexy floats for years, so it's no surprise that the prize is being crammed at the dizzying highlights of rival Ferrari, listed in New York.

It's a great story: the 105-year-old car manufacturer has been bankrupt seven times and is now profit after the most dramatic comeback. But it still has a net debt of £ 815 million. That is why Hughes, who had her teeth cut at Vodafone, RBS and Morrisons, should make an easy ride.

She would have to resist the pressure of the Italian and Kuwaiti private equity houses owned by the majority of Aston Martin to set too high a price. Otherwise she could be relegated to Miss Moneypenny.

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